My Week with Marilyn: First Love is Such Sweet Despair (2011)

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Biography, Drama, History

In his first major directorial debut, Sir Laurence Olivier has succeeded at landing Marilyn Monroe to reprise a role once played by his wife in his adaptation of The Prince and the Showgirl. New to the movie scene is the young and rebellious Colin Clark, who is simply looking for a way to get involved in his first film. After some persistence, he is granted the role of 3rd Assistant Director, and aide to Olivier. As Marilyn settles in for the shoot, she is noticeably rattled by the process and Olivier’s direction, enough so that she requires the presence and assistance of her greatest supporter, Vivien Leigh. As Colin gets an opportunity to check in on and assist Marilyn, the two begin to develop an interest in the other. This has potential consequences as Marilyn had recently wed Arthur Miller, Colin has started to develop feelings for a young woman named Lucy and the rest of the crew questions the intentions and effect of their mutual interest. Colin gets his chance to see the infamous Marilyn Monroe in ways no one else could ever dream.

Starring: Michelle Williams (Marilyn Monroe), Eddie Redmayne (Colin Clark), Julia Ormond (Vivien Leigh), Kenneth Branaugh (Sir Laurence Oliver), Pip Torrens (Sir Kenneth Clark), Toby Jones (Arthur Jacobs), Michael Kitchen (Hugh Perceval), Geraldine Somerville (Lady Jane Clark), Karl Moffatt (Jack Cardiff), Dominic Cooper (Milton Greene), Judi Dench (Dame Sybil Thorndike)

With an airy voice and mesmerizing glance, Michelle Williams brings Marilyn to life in this biopic. It may not be a perfect match, but it certainly feels as close as one could get to the original. Compared to the Marilyn observed in her movies, Williams portrays more of the real Marilyn behind the scenes, giving her the depth and sorrow that was lost in the public eye. The young Eddie Redmayne served as Colin Clark, Marilyn’s youthful pillar of strength. He projects a certain naivety that blends well with the gracefulness of Williams. In essence, the story is actually more about him and his chance encounter with Hollywood’s shining star of the time, so Redmayne focuses the experiences of the film to represent the life changes that highlight his future. Kenneth Branagh is receiving similar attention to Williams for his performance as the dramatic Sir Laurence Olivier. He has moments of arrogance and honest revelation. In addition, Judi Dench serves as a centering character as the sweet and talented Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Simon Curtis took the true story documented by Colin Clark through his journals and turned it into an experience that displays Marilyn Monroe away from the camera. It is certainly not a surprise that actors and actresses that made seem so well put together have issues behind the scenes, but Marilyn’s issues appeared to be nearly crippling. As the film highlights, there is something simply mesmerizing about Marilyn when she gets the scene right, but she often struggled to connect with her character, maintain her focus and feel confidence in her abilities. She appeared to be fairly paranoid about the thoughts and opinions of those around her, almost needing constant positive reinforcement and distractions from the thoughts in her own head. While Vivien certainly served as a centering influence, a turbulent marriage and constant pressure made her presence fall short at times. When she met Colin, she saw a young man that was kind, genuine and could give her the attention and support she craved.

The relationship between the two leads characters was a forbidden sort of love that touched both of their lives. For Marilyn, she saw someone who could support her in a way that no one else at the time could. She was reliant on barbiturates and other medications to calm her mood, a practice that was highly supported by those around her. The relationship was a little more meaningful for Colin. Supposedly, he had never experienced such a love as the one he found with Marilyn. Considering her marriage and his interest in Judy, he knew their relationship to be wrong but felt compelled both due to his tendency to follow orders (which included tending to Marilyn) and his inability to be stricken with her beauty and grace. The relationship greatly affected the rest of the crew as there were concerns for Colin serving as a distraction from the film and Marilyn acting like a diva and using him as a crutch. For Colin, he may have known the relationship would not last but embraced the opportunity to be a part of her life.

The film The Prince and the Showgirl was an important film in the grand scale of the performers’ careers. Laurence Olivier went back to the theater after the film and continued his career as one of the most successful actors in British history. For Marilyn, she already had a few eventual classics under her belt, but the film led to arguably one of her most significant roles as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot.

The film includes some great acting and an interesting perspective into the other side of Marilyn Monroe. The romance and personal struggles make watching Williams’s portrayal of the infamous actress a must-see.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

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