(Published in The Sunday Guardian, dated 26 February 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/the-itch-lingers-on)
Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench
Director: Simon Curtis
Rating: 2.5 stars
In 1956, Marilyn Monroe, accompanied by her newly-acquired husband Arthur Miller, came to England at the behest of Sir Laurence Olivier, to star in The Prince and the Showgirl. A poor little rich boy, Colin Clark, one of the gofers on the set, published diary accounts decades later, detailing his own relationship with the troubled Hollywood siren. Decades after that, someone chose to turn that into a film, My Week with Marilyn. Yet another tribute. Yet another attempt to fill enormous shoes, and expose the holes in the soles.
Now, here’s the first of several problems – the script feels whimsical and unstructured, and not in a manner that could be interpreted by monocle-sporting critics as symbolic of the eponymous character. Here’s the second – when such iconic figures as Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, whose Technicolor images have been imprinted in our minds, are portrayed on screen, it’s very hard not to water them down.
I spent the first twenty minutes distracted by the lack of resemblance between Monroe and Michelle Williams, who, at best, looks like a plainer younger sister. Kenneth Branagh comes closest to pulling off his character, though his near-parody of Olivier is rather more reminiscent of Mark Gatiss from Sherlock. Yes, that’s a subtle way of saying he more-than-hints at Olivier’s rumoured bisexuality.
There’s a tendency, while making films about female stars, to focus on their vulnerability instead of sensuality. But how can that work in a film about a woman who spent most of her life seducing the camera? Michelle Williams, who plays the capricious, dreamy, fragile Marilyn quite nicely, fails to capture the alluring enticer in her. And from the very obvious use of a body double to the PG-13ing of her relationship with Clark, the film oozes prudery.
The supporting cast is formidable. Eddie Redmayne, an Etonian like Clark, looks the part of the high-born young man floored by a sex kitten. Judi Dench is lovely as stage doyenne Dame Sybil Thorndike. Branagh’s satire of the Stanislavski Method is hilarious, and he gets to spit out such gems as “Trying to teach Marilyn how to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger!” But then, a line as trite as “First love is such sweet despair, Colin!” would stink, even from Dench’s mouth. And while we can swallow Marilyn Monroe confiding in an almost-lover, it beats logic that Olivier and Leigh should follow suit.
The Verdict: A weak script and patchy characterisation leave one feeling the film lacks soul.