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Friday 17 November 2017, 19:00 pm.
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Back stage

A film star who wants to be a great actor
By Sasa Majuma (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Back stage








My Week with Marilyn (2011) is now at the New Capitol Cinemas. It was delayed in getting here because of technical problems. Let's hope it stays longer so you have a chance to see it. It is a smooth and very entertaining movie. Norma Jean Baker (1926-1962) would have been 86 now. She left us 50 years ago and is frozen in that time warp. She has been subject to dozens of biographies, and played before by at least 14 actresses (nine in TV dramas) including Misty Rowe in Goodbye Norma Jean (1976) and by Melody Anderson in Marilyn and Bobby: Her Final Affair (1993).

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) was her only British film.  In this year's award season Michelle Williams earned an Independent Spirit Award as Best Female Actress and a Golden Globe for Best Actress Comedy or Musical - she does so well in capturing Marilyn Munroe's innocence and vulnerability and she sings beautifully.  She was also nominated for an Oscar - it went to Meryl Streep as Iron Lady.

The story of My Week with Marilyn is very simple and captured beautifully. It is 1956. Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) is arriving in Great Britain to make her first and only film there.  She aspires to be recognised as a dramatic actress; to transcend her perception as a sex queen.  She has yet to cope with her basic insecurity - fear of abandonment, fear of being alone.  She has a large retinue with her including: her husband of three weeks, the great American playwright Arthur Miller (played by Dougray Scott); her beloved Method acting coach, Paula Strasberg (a pandering Zoe Wanamaker); and her agent Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) who owns 49 percent of her seven years before he fell in love with her.  To those people around Marilyn is added a bodyguard, an older man, Roger Smith (Philip Jackson), who keeps his head on.

In London Marilyn is up against the gods of British theatre.  The director of The Sleeping Prince (it was released as The Prince and the Showgirl) is the great Laurence Olivier (a jowly Kenneth Branagh) or "Larry" who is also her co-star.  In the cast is Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench).  Hovering in the background is an extremely jealous Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) who is convinced her husband, Larry, will have an affair with Marilyn.  They had already been together for 20 years.  Vivien is aging while Marilyn at 30 is a symbol of youth and beauty. 

Tragically, the splendour of the gods only increases Marilyn's anxiety - she can't perform, remember simple lines or learn new ones, she becomes gripped by panic and vacillates between exuberance and depression.  Marilyn goes into a tailspin when she reads some notes Arthur Miller, her third husband, has written about her and she reacts negatively.

Into this vacuum steps Colin Clark

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(acted well by Eddie Redmayne).  When the movie opens Colin is 23, unemployed, and determined to get a job in cinema. His father, the great art historian and TV personality Sir Kenneth Clark sends him off to a contact.  There, Colin, though told repeatedly by Laurence Olivier that there is no position, waits patiently until suddenly an opportunity to demonstrate his capacities appears.  He is eventually hired as the Third Assistant Director, or more correctly a gofer or dogsbody.  Once at the Pinewood Studios, Colin takes a shine to wardrobe assistant Lucy (Emma Watson, ex-Harry Potter star).  This sub-plot doesn't add much to the movie, except to show what a young twit and opportunist Colin is.  Sucked into Marilyn's orbit he totally forgets his date with Lucy.

When Marilyn is in her downspin and lonely she turns to Colin for comfort.  Having expected nothing of her, she is not threatened by him.  Larry has already denounced her as "the stupidest, most self-indulgent little tart I've ever come across". He also said, "teaching Marilyn how to act is like teaching Urdu to a Badger". The film adroitly shifts to become the story of Marilyn and Colin's brief time together. It is believable. It is sensitively and subtly portrayed. At one point Marilyn turns to Colin and says, "Shall I be her?"  This certainly conveys a great sense of personal insight.  Colin tells her, "You are a film star who wants to be a great actor.  He (Olivier) is a great actor who wants to be a film star".

It actually happened. Colin Clark published his diaries and a memoir on his time with the star, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me (1995) and My Week with Marilyn (2000). He obviously was still obsessed with her. If you want to see the real Marilyn at her best, watch one of her better movies, like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

Laurence Olivier is famous for his various Shakespeare films.  Near the end of this one he gives in and quotes the Bard.  A pleasant touch. Was he really out to seduce Marilyn? Or was her problem that she knew she could never seduce him? Seduction was the name of the game, but in reality it requires a degree of mutual consent. Munroe's last film was Misfits (1961), co-starring Clark Gable, with the script by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston.

My Week with Marilyn is one hour and 29 minutes long.  It is rated 16+.  The director is Simon Curtis.  The script is by Adrian Hodges based on the two memoirs by Colin Clark.  The cinematographer is Ben Smithard.  The editor is Adam Recht.  The music is by Conrad Pope. Marilyn's Theme is by Alexandre Desplat, and the piano solos are by Lang Lang. It was filmed at the Pinewood Studios in England. 
sasa_majuma@yahoo.co.uk

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