Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle
strange_complex

1. My Week with Marilyn (2011), dir. Simon Curtis

I saw this, my first film of 2012, today with ms_siobhan and planet_andy at the Hyde Park Picture House, and we all really enjoyed it.

I'm by no means an expert on Marilyn Monroe, so can't judge how accurate this portrayal of either the week in question or her character more generally was, but I am particularly interested in biopics at the moment because of an article which I am writing about screen portrayals of the emperor Augustus, so I watched it partly from that angle. I've been reading a rather good book by Dennis Bingham on the biopic as a genre, which emphasises how very much the biopic intersects and overlaps with other genres, and also argues that the lives of men and women are treated so differently in biopics that they virtually need to be understood as different genres themselves. Bingham suggests that biopics of women frequently view their lives in terms of suffering or victimhood, and particularly portray them as struggling (usually unsuccessfully) to negotiate an irresolvable tension between their public role and their personal life. All of this is easily identifiable in My Week with Marilyn - hardly surprisingly since it is central to her life-story anyway, at least in the mythologised version which most of us know.

The decision to focus on a short snapshot of her life was more interesting and innovative. Obviously, from the point of view of Colin Clark this was determined by the circumstances of his encounter with her, but the success of his memoirs and the decision to make it into a film say a lot about how effective this format can be for a biopic. It dispenses with the expectation of a comprehensive coverage, allowing the story to allude to earlier events and point the way to future ones as much or as little as suits it, while concentrating instead on drawing a rich and vivid character. I felt this worked very well here, especially combined with the use of Colin Clark as a point-of-view character who begins with a highly idealised view of Marilyn, and gradually moves to a much more real and intimate knowledge of her.

The cast was a veritable feast of British character-actors, many familiar from the small screen (My Family, Downton Abbey, Poirot), and they all deliver - but perhaps especially Kenneth Branagh as a wonderfully irritable Laurence Olivier. The script is sharp, and does a good job of exploring relevant issues such as the objectificaton of women, the effects of ageing, and the tension between the British theatrical acting tradition and the Hollywood screen equivalent. Colin Clark is very obviously a privileged posh-boy who gets where he does thanks to family money and connections, despite his protestations to the contrary, but that's not glossed over, and nor does he get away entirely without being criticised for it.

If you like biopics, Marilyn Monroe, portraits of the film production business, pretty scenery or British character actors, this one's for you.

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Tags: augustus, films, films watched 2012, reviews
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