There is a great movie to be made about the conflict between Marilyn Monroe and Sir Lawrence Olivier on the set of THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL. Unfortunately, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is not it. That is because the writer, Adrian Hodges (TOM & VIV) and director, Simon Curtis (TV's CRANFORD) have made a decision to take the sharp edges off the drama at every turn. Instead of the caustic wit of Colin (son of Kenneth) Clark's memoir, the movie gives us a protagonist in the classic "ingenue" line - very dull, very sweet, and hardly necessary at all as an entry point to the film's real drama. He falls for Marilyn, she flirts with him, but it's all very tame indeed, if in fact it really happened.
What we really want to see is Marilyn versus Larry. The Sexy Film Star, enmeshed in the Method, desperately trying and failing to be a technically great actress, puffed up and doped up by her self-serving entourage (a particularly menacing portrayal of Paula Strasberg) versus the Great Actor, painfully aware that his time has passed, resentful he cannot set the screen alight, and in fear of hysterical women from his experiences with Vivienne Leigh. When MY WEEK WITH MARILYN catches afire, it's because we're watching Marilyn and Larry bring out each other's insecurities - in those moments, we get a glimpse into their interior lives. But all too often, this fascinating material is cut short for drippy dating scenes as Marilyn and young Colin skinny dip, or visit Windsor Castle. I wanted more of the drama - more of the tension as cinema and theatre acting changed era - more of Marilyn and Arthur Miller - more of Larry and Vivienne.
The resulting film is basically shot and scripted like an afternoon movie on the Hallmark channel. And, unfortunately, it is filled with a fair few anonymous performances - from Dominic Cooper as a suffocating manager to Julia Ormond unbelievably mis-cast as Leigh. Emma Watson is utterly wasted as Colin's parochial love interest, and Eddie Redmayne has nothing more to do than look charming and naive. In the minor parts, it's only really Judi Dench who stands out - she oozes class as Dame Sybil Thorndike and deserves a sort of Oscar-double-whammy for her performance here and in J.EDGAR. As for the leads, Kenneth Branagh is stunning - stunning - as Lawrence Olivier - capturing not just his particular intonation and mannerisms, but giving the towering presence in English theatre real pathos.
All of which brings us Michelle Willams' much hyped performance as Marilyn, the subject of an Oscar campaign from the Weinsteins. Frankly, I was utterly underwhelmed. Yes she gets the breathy, tremulous voice, and yes she can sing the songs and do the moves. And yes, she appears to have put on a bit, if not enough weight. But she problem is this - she has not got the sexy star quality that Marilyn had, and you simply can't manufacture that. (Which is not to say she isn't a terrific actress - just look at BLUE VALENTINE). Too often in this film we see other characters look at Marilyn and gasp in awe and envy at the way she "lights up the screen" or the "magic" she works or the way she's "full of life". Sadly, the sign of a bad film is when people tell rather than show. We shouldn't need this commentary. Williams' should be doing it herself. And I don't buy the concept that no-one can light up a screen like Marilyn today. We have instinctive "film stars" now just as we have "technical actresses". Sadly, I would put Michelle Williams in the latter camp.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN played New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and the AFI Fest 2011. It opens this weekend in the US and UK. It opens on December 29th in Singapore; on December 30th in Finland; on January 5th in Portugal; on January 13th in Norway and Sweden; and on January 19th in Lebanon and the Netherlands.