Tuesday, 29 November 2011

My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011) Review

Michelle Williams plays cinema's most iconic bombshell in My Week With Marilyn...

Whenever a film claims to have been 'Based On A True Story', one has to approach it with suspicion - after all, so many of these stories exaggerate their subjects for the sake of melodrama, leaving reality behind for flights of Oscar-bidding fancy. So, when My Week With Marilyn purports to be the retelling of a 'True Story', the only appropriate reaction is laughter. Based on the acclaimed memoir The Prince, The Showgirl And Me by Colin Clark, this shallow drama is fan fiction at its most dizzyingly creative, supposing an affair between a Third Assistant Director and the world's most iconic blonde. I have no real grounds for suspecting that Clark's story is pure invention, but his alleged tryst with Monroe is unsupported by any other source, and the one-sided manner of Curtis' adaptation - narrated by Clark - smacks of untruth. My Week may present the bombshell in a unique light, but whether it's an entirely honest one remains unclear.

Monroe's tortured upbringing is often mentioned in relation to her celebrity, and here we find her (played by Michelle Williams) as a conflicted soul, caught between a person and a persona. "Shall I be her?" she asks Colin at one point, pouting to a crowd of adorning fans. Williams nails most of Marilyn's onscreen mannerisms, and her recreation of the Showgirl role is note-perfect, but what she fails to muster is the star's natural luminosity. Perhaps this was an impossible task for any actress - even one as distinguished as Williams, who at 31 is already overdue at least two Oscars. It's an indescribable quality which she is tasked with capturing - a quality which made Monroe a point of obsession for both men and women, who wanted to bed and be her respectively. That famous smile was like a spiders web; return its luscious favour and you'll be ensnared forever. Even Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), the director/star of The Prince And The Showgirl, probably fancied himself as a suitor for America's golden girl. "I wouldn't buy that little-girl lost act if I were you" he spits to Clark after a particularly disastrous shoot. There's little danger of that here.

But Williams' inconsistent portrayal is the least of My Week's problems. Its insufferably twee portrayal of the English countryside - halfway between Emmerdale and Countryfile - only adds to the film's feeling of artifice, presenting an eternally autumnal landscape where pubs are called The Hen And Cow (or some such nonsense), everyone wears a flat cap and the only available pastime is darts. Its consideration of the higher classes is sillier still, with BBC stalwart Judi Dench roped in as a seeming act of parody, and the rosy-cheeked Derek Jacobi turning up for a scene in Windsor (the camera's initial reaction to him is hysterical, almost leaping back with surprise). Not a single note of the film rang true for me - in fact, its plain-faced whimsy often left me cold. Curtis' and DP Ben Smithard shoot the story through with a sightseer's eye of 1950's London, and the inherently televisual aesthetic goes a long way to reminding us just how dislocated the film is from its subject. It's not all bad though. Branagh's Olivier is ingeniously conceived, particularly effective in his outraged outbursts at Marilyn's method coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). His larger than life portrayal may be hammy, but it provides moments of hilarity and warmth in an otherwise dull and misjudged adaptation. In all honesty, there's no reason why this shouldn't be premiering on BBC1.

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