My Week With Marilyn
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Imagine that you're a starry-eyed 23-year-old determined to land a career in show business. Imagine further that your determination pays off, that you find yourself as the assistant (read: gopher) to one of the most influential men in entertainment. Finally, imagine that the most iconic actress in the world arrives to shoot a film at your studio and … falls for you.
Sound like a fairy tale? For one week in the summer of 1956, it was reality for young Colin Clark. That was the summer Marilyn Monroe flew to London to film The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier. And that was the summer Colin found himself in the most unlikely of roles: confidant and comforter to an incandescent but deeply troubled icon.
It was supposed to be a win-win situation for the principal players. Marilyn, honeymooning with her new (and third) husband, playwright Arthur Miller, hoped to burnish her image as a serious actress by doing a film with Olivier. As for the notoriously persnickety British film and stage fixture, he hoped proximity to Marilyn's smoldering sensuality might somehow reinvigorate his vintage image.
Alas, things don't always go as planned.
Marilyn, a mercurial and insecure performer, struggles to deliver even basic lines of dialogue. And with each miscue, Olivier's contempt for her failures becomes more apparent. Then, when Marilyn discovers notes to a story Miller is working on, she interprets them as a damning critique of her shortcomings—further fanning flames of self-doubt.
On the other end of the spectrum, Marilyn's sycophantic acting coach, Paula Strasberg, would have her believe she's the most accomplished actress in history. Marilyn just can't swallow the line. So, looking for a port in the storm, she strikes up a relationship with Colin, a conscientious young man who's just trying to ensure that the actress gets where she needs to go with script in hand. And when conflict between Marilyn and Miller drives the playwright back to New York, Marilyn needs somebody to talk with.
And cry with. And skinny-dip with.
In the end, it's a borderline adulterous fairy tale that inevitably collides with reality, as it most assuredly must—seven days after it began.
Marilyn Monroe's tragic life offers a cautionary tale for anyone who's tempted to believe that fame, money and celebrity are a cure-all. And though this film is set six years before her death, we can clearly see that Marilyn has already wandered some distance down the path of self-destruction.
She's uncomfortable with the caricatured pin-up role that completely defines her public persona. But when Colin entreats her to let go of that life, she's unable to do so. The fame and the adulation obviously do not satisfy her. But she's too addicted to them to just walk away. On a parallel track is this: Despite her super-sexy status, Marilyn still harbors deep insecurities about her worth and her lovability. "I'm not a goddess," she says. "I just want to be loved like a normal girl." She laments the fact that when people see the fallibility beneath her pretty facade, they inevitably reject her. "All people ever see is Marilyn Monroe," she tells Colin. "As soon as they realize I'm not her, they run."
Drawn to Colin because he's one of the very few people who doesn't have an agenda for her, Marilyn intuitively grasps the normal goodness of him simply being there to serve her basic needs as an assistant. His kindness and decency are the qualities that initially attract her attention.
Others confide in Colin as well. Both Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh confess their insecurities to him, again reinforcing the message that fame and fortune do not necessarily equate to even self-satisfaction, much less happiness. Olivier admits, "I thought working with Marilyn would make me feel young again." It doesn't. Meanwhile, his wife further drives home the point when she laments, "I'm 43. No one will love me for very much longer." She fears Olivier will soon leave her for someone younger.
Conversations between Marilyn and Colin also hint at the damage she experienced early in life. Marilyn tells Colin how lucky he is to have a father and a mother who love him—experiences she didn't have as a child shuffled around a foster care system. She observes, "All little girls should be told how pretty they are, how much their mothers love them."
A final bright spot is an old actress named Dame Sybil Thorndike who consistently treats Marilyn with benevolence and class, tenderly encouraging her when she feels inadequate.
Marilyn's acting coach exclaims, "All my life I have prayed for a great actress I could guide."
Several scenes involve Colin seeing Marilyn naked. He stands face to face with her after she gets out of a shower, purposely dropping her towel in front of him. (The camera briefly shows her backside.) Her bare rear appears again when she initiates a skinny-dip in a lake. That scene also pictures Colin wearing wet boxer shorts and covering his groin with his hands—an act that prompts Marilyn to mock him for his modesty. Colin also observes Marilyn in a bathtub, covered with suds. (We see a bare leg and a bit of her shoulders.)
Marilyn flirts almost continuously with Colin, but several people advise him against being swept away by her considerable charms. Olivier cautions, "Be careful, boy, she doesn't need to be rescued." Colin pays them no mind. He simply can't resist the temptation of having a relationship with the most famous woman on earth. The two never have sex, though Colin does spend a night in her bed (fully clothed), comforting her after she's taken too many drugs. They hold hands, kiss and cuddle on several occasions.
Virtually everyone is aware of Marilyn and Colin's relationship; many are jealous. One of her longtime business associates tells Colin that he and Marilyn had a similar 10-day tryst years before. And Olivier, despite his frequent frustration with her acting, is so infatuated with Marilyn that his wife, Vivien Leigh, instructs Colin to tell her if things go too far between Olivier and Marilyn. But Olivier also makes it (obscenely) known that if sex with Colin will help Marilyn's acting, then he's all for it.
Marilyn's well-documented cleavage and palpable sensuality are frequently on display here. In a press conference full of gawking men, someone asks her if it's true she sleeps in the nude. She cooingly confirms the rumor. In a screen test, Marilyn playfully wonders if she's showing too much cleavage. A man responds, "Oh god, no!" Indeed, men continuously objectify her, making crude comments about her breasts and backside. A schoolboy lets loose a randy remark about wanting her to whip him.
Before meeting Marilyn, Colin has kindled a romance with a young woman named Lucy who works in the studio's costuming department. Lucy is wary of Colin's advances, but begins to give in—including indulging a make-out session in which she stops him from unbuttoning her blouse. Their romance gets torpedoed once Marilyn attracts Colin's attention.
None. We see blood on Marilyn's bed sheets, the result of her suffering through the early stages of a difficult pregnancy.
Crude or Profane Language
Seven f-words. One s-word. Jesus' name is taken in vain a half-dozen times; God's is misused two or three times. We hear the British profanity "bloody" four or five times. Other interjections include "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑tard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
It's implied more than shown that Marilyn combines alcohol and prescription drugs. We see pill bottles on her nightstand, and her foggy mental state hint at their influence. One tense moment finds her handlers scrambling about outside her locked door, fearful she's overdosed. Colin climbs through the window to find her woozy, but still living.
Everyone smokes. Olivier even has his own brand of cigarettes. Social drinking (wine, beer and harder beverages) frequently accompanies the tobacco use. We're shown empty beer bottles around two men who've either fallen asleep or passed out on a couch.
Other Negative Elements
Arthur Miller clearly considers his new bride an annoying encumbrance. "I can't work," he says. "I can't think. She's devouring me." And Marilyn tells Colin that she knows her third husband already considers their marriage a mistake.
When Olivier comments to his wife about Marilyn's beauty, Vivien retorts, "I hope she makes your life h‑‑‑." Marilyn and Colin lie to cover up their relationship.
Many if not most of us have harbored a celebrity crush at some point in our lives. Especially when we're young, it's easy to indulge the fantasy of what it would be like to have a relationship with some beautiful, famous person.
My Week With Marilyn, based on Colin Clark's memoir, effectively puts the hurt on that kind of longing, showing that dreaming and living aren't the same thing. Reality always intrudes, we're told.
Actress Michelle Williams, who portrays Marilyn and spent months studying her every nuance, says her main goal in the film was to get at the woman behind the familiar stereotypes. "I grew up with a poster of her in my bedroom," Williams says in the film's production notes. "I had always been more interested in the private Marilyn, though, and the unguarded Marilyn—the Marilyn before 'Marilyn.' Even as a young girl my primary connection wasn't with this larger-than-life personality, but with what was going on underneath."
Screenwriter Adrian Hodges had a similar goal. "Stories about Marilyn feel like an overworked field. Over the years she's just become this thing, this poster, a set image which has been produced again and again and again." But he felt differently after reading Clark's memoirs: "I thought they gave a wonderful insight to the very real side of Marilyn, the Marilyn who was everything that everybody thought she was—scared, insecure, frantic, sometimes impossible—but at the same time vulnerable, sweet, endearing, just a young girl, really. So I thought this screenplay could make her human again."
He succeeds, with Williams' help, in fleshing out—quite literally in several brief scenes—the fragile, damaged woman behind the buxom, pin-up archetype who captivated a generation. The result is a sensual, sad and sometimes vulgar peek behind the Hollywood curtain. But it's also a study of what happens when we're given the choice between "normalcy" and "fame." Marilyn didn't have the will to resist the siren's song. This film hints at the fact that most of us don't either.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe; Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark; Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier; Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh; Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller; Emma Watson as Lucy; Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike; Zoë Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg; Philip Jackson as Roger Smith; Toby Jones as Arthur Jacobs
Simon Curtis ( Woman in Gold)
The Weinstein Company
November 23, 2011
March 13, 2012