Populated by paper thin characters and centred around a totally unconvincing love story, Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn is a flat, bland and historically dubious biographical drama. Set during the shooting of Laurence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl, the film recounts the story of an alleged romance between Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe and young Englishman Colin Clarke, who later went on to write the two books on which the film is based. A few good performances here and there do nothing to prevent this sappy, doe-eyed production from falling head-first into tedious territory.
Via the time honoured, ham-fisted tradition of truly atrocious voiceover narration, the audience is introduced Colin Clarke (Eddie Redmayne; The Other Boleyn Girl), a wide-eyed, inexperienced and totally uncharismatic English lad who manages to land a job on the set of Laurence Olivier’s latest film. Olivier is played, in a somewhat obvious although by no means ill-conceived casting choice, by Kenneth Branagh (The Boat that Rocked). Although Clarke initially pursues the sensible wardrobe assistant Lucy (Emma Watson; Harry Potter), he soon becomes infatuated with the pictures’ shining star: the one and only Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams; Blue Valentine). Bizarrely, she seems to like him too. And things go on predictably from there.
Chief among the films problems is an acute case of over editing. Curtis seems to be in a frightful hurry, cutting from one scene to the next the moment words cease to be exchanged, seldom giving the characters and their motivations a chance to settle or expand. Other characters — such as Judi Dench’s charming Sybil Thorndike and Emma Watson’s thankless “other” love interest — flit intermittently in and out of the proceedings, adding to the impression that the movie has been cut down from a much more considerable length.
While Redmayne is almost completely forgettable, there’s no denying Michelle Williams does a great impersonation. Unfortunately, Marilyn Monroe – or at least, the Marilyn Monroe depicted in the film – is not a particularly interesting or sympathetic character. Emotionally fragile, she spends a great deal of the picture wilted and melancholy, but the script never compels you to share in her emotions. If anything, she comes off as childish and manipulative, though perhaps there’s truth in that. Still, the romance between her and Clarke is complete rubbish, least of all because the film is based on memoirs written by the man himself. That’s enough to set alarm bells ringing, and seems to confirm the whole picture as a blurred-around-the-edges portrayal that forfeits veracity and humanity in favour of cheap and easy melodrama.
Only in the briefest of moments – Monroe’s interaction with the paparazzi, or the insidious relationship between her and her acting coach – does My Week with Marilyn seem to have something to say about the nature of celebrity and the woman who redefined the term. For the rest of the time, with a setting that seems like it was borrowed from an episode of Midsummer Murders, and a story that could have been lifted from any number of trashy romantic novellas, Curtis’ film is little more than a BBC midday movie.