My Week With Marilyn Review
My Week With Marilyn, as the title suggests, is the true story of one man's brief liason with a movie icon, set during the filming of Sir Laurence Olivier's The Prince And The Showgirl in 1956. The film opens with Marilyn performing a typically alluring musical number, as viewed in a cinema by Colin Clark, a well-heeled twentysomething who decides that he wants to work in the movie industry. Having been born and raised in the upper echelons of British society, Colin is determined to make his own way in the world and heads to London, practically living in Olivier's Piccadilly production office until he gets given a job. Assigned the lowly position of Third Assistant Director on Olivier's latest film, Colin is tasked with menial work but strikes up an unlikely friendship with an obviously neurotic and vulnerable Marilyn Monroe, to the chagrin of pretty much everyone else involved with the troubled production.
Simon Curtis' debut feature is based on Colin Clark's memoirs of that period, The Prince, The Showgirl And Me and My Week With Marilyn, the books having been adapted by Adrian Hodges. It's a sweet look back at another era, no doubt filtered through the prism of nostalgia but with enough salty language to make sure that the story is not too syrupy and indulgent. Clark was a young man with plenty of social connections, having been schooled at Eton and Oxford, and certain advantages of his - he knew Vivien Leigh quite well, for example - were downplayed to make the character a little more wide-eyed and innocent. The film doesn't contain any startling revelations; Marilyn's various foibles were well documented, as was Olivier's annoyance with her on-set, yet it still manages to bring those people and that situation to life in a way that doesn't feel forced or sentimental.
Michelle Williams perfectly captures Marilyn's measured, graceful physicality and imbues her with the sense of longing that seemed to plague Ms Monroe throughout her life. Williams brings real depth to the role, effortlessly flitting between the glamourous persona of Marilyn Monroe and the anxious, needy woman who resided underneath all the giggling and pouting. Indeed, one of the pleasures of rewatching the film is deciding just when and where those two sides of Marilyn are coming into play.
Eddie Redmayne's brooding looks and bee-stung lips could be put to no better use as Colin Clark, Redmayne adept at handling Clark's initial sense of overawed wonder and his eventual realisation that his love for Marilyn would never come to fruition. Kenneth Branagh tackles Sir Laurence Olivier and while the physical profile doesn't match, Branagh creates a character that still feels very real, the performance focussed on that human aspect rather than assaying every tic or mannerism displayed by dear 'Larry'.
The same is true of Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, as although she doesn't resemble her fragile-looking counterpart she still conveys the deep-seated feeling of inadequacy no doubt felt by the ageing actress, because Leigh played Marilyn's role in the prior stage version of the movie and was unceremoniously overlooked for the feature. Judi Dench is good value (as always) in her small role as Dame Sybil Thorndike, a grand old lady of British acting who was sympathetic to Marilyn's problems on set.
A huge array of British talent fills out the remaining roles, with Emma Watson as Lucy, a wardrobe assistant at Pinewood who's an initial object of Colin's affections. Dougray Scott is a swarthy presence as Marilyn's new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller. Zoe Wanamaker's angular features portray Paula Strasberg, Marilyn's strong-willed acting coach, and Toby Jones gets some pithy lines as Arthur Jacobs, Marilyn's dour PR man. Dominic Cooper rounds out the ensemble as her good-looking production partner Milton H. Greene.
Curtis' direction has been criticised for being too 'stagey', but one wonders just how a movie-within-a-movie like this could have been realised any better, as the workmanlike environs of Pinewood Studios don't lend themselves to sweeping vistas and overly fussy camera work. That said, Curtis and his DP Ben Smithard have shot a beautiful looking film, the images soaked with earthy autumnal colours, and the lighting casting pools of shadows to deliberately evoke '40s and '50s noir. Shooting in the actual studio where The Prince And The Showgirl was made some 65 years earlier adds a great deal of credibility to the show, as does the usage of the actual house where Marilyn stayed when making the movie.
The two musical numbers (Heatwave and That Old Black Magic, both performed by Michelle Williams) which top and tail the film seem a little ostentatious, and it should come as no surprise to learn that they were late additions at the behest of producer Harvey Weinstein. But they actually work very well to frame the story, showing us the Marilyn that we all expected to see before giving us the 'real deal', so to speak. And, after her sojourn in England, the film eventually 'returns' her to the screen as how she's best remembered.
My Week With Marilyn proves that the world's fascination with Marilyn Monroe shows no sign of abating. The film is not the searing biopic some people are waiting for - the writing isn't particularly incisive - but it was never intended to be. It still addresses some of the key insecurities in Marilyn's life without glossing over the exasperation that she caused others, outlined by Colin Clark's fond recollections of his experience. The whole premise is lifted by a strong sense of authenticity which is generated by the detailed production design, canny use of locations and the excellent performances which go beyond mere impersonation.
The movie is presented in 2.35 widescreen, encoded with AVC. The detail in the 1080p24 image is crisp and clear, only faltering when the image is intentionally mimicking the softer, filtered look of movies of the time. Colour is rendered in golden hues, with skin tones that tend to veer towards the warmer end of the spectrum, and more neutral colours often feature the blue-green tinge typical of the modern Digital Intermediate (the movie was shot Super 35 and finished on a 2K DI). Black levels vary greatly, looking shallow and washed-out one minute and deep and rich the next. The image is free of any dirt or marks, and grain keeps a low profile until the darker scenes whereupon it becomes more obvious, but this is consistent with the faster stock needed for such shots.
Unfortunately the picture quality is hamstrung by some disastrous compression artefacts. The video encode is less than 15GB in size, and it shows in dark scenes or those with tricky gradations between light and dark, with obvious banding, blocking and some large patches of horizontal lines that live in the shadows. The latter is an extremely bizarre artefact that I've only seen once before (on Warners' Blu-ray of Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, which used the old HD DVD encode) and I believe that it's indicative of an image that has been starved of bits to the point where the encoder farts out these gigantic blocks of lines. Click the pic below for an example, pay attention to the silhouette of the projector on the right hand side of the frame. (If your display is crushing black levels then you won't see the problem because it's being swallowed up by the crush.)
The sound is much better, thankfully. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has an active and engaging sound field, noticeable when Colin first drives through the Pinewood lot, the rear speakers alive with chattering employees going about their business. The film is obviously not filled with explosions and mayhem, yet there's a surprisingly meaty bass extension when called for, such as the concussive 'thwump' of the flashbulbs that go off when Marilyn arrives at Heathrow. Dialogue is well balanced, and the subtle music score doesn't overwhelm.
There are only two special features. First is the audio commentary with director Simon Curtis. He can sometimes indulge in a bit of hero worship, swooning over Branagh's performance in particular, and there isn't a wealth of technical detail. But it's a well-paced chat track, with plenty of insights about the day-to-day process of making the movie, how the script deviated from Clark's memoirs and so on. Last is the 19-minute featurette The Untold Story Of An American Icon, which is a semi-interesting 'making of' piece that blends plenty of clips of the film with interviews from the cast & filmmakers. (For some reason these features are encoded with lossless DTS-HD Master Audio, which seems like overkill for extras. Bit of a cock-up from EiV there methinks.)
This single-layer disc is locked to Region B and auto-starts with skippable trailers for: Lord Of The Rings Extended Edition Blu-ray, The Rum Diary, The Artist, I Don't Know How She Does It and One For The Money.
My Week With Marilyn is an artfully crafted look at a bygone age. This Blu-ray version doesn't do the film justice, with a pathetically small video encode that can look good when it wants to, but which otherwise exhibits some of the worst artefacting I've ever seen. The audio is decent however, and the meagre selection of extras is rescued by a decent commentary track.
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