“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”
Post-exam finals student with nothing to do + access to BBC iPlayer = watching random films featuring Eddie Redmayne playing Eddie Redmayne.
Hence My Week with Marilyn.
It’s a film about Marilyn Monroe. Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s a film about a third assistant director (Eddie Redmayne) on the set of a film starring Marilyn Monroe, and his brief and mostly illusory love affair with the star.
What the film constantly circles back to is the question of how far we can really know Marilyn Monroe: how much of what is written and said about her or by her is performance; and how far she is object, not subject. A constant refrain is “You don’t understand her”; with the general subtext being, of course, “and I do”. But perhaps the truth is that everyone sees a different Marilyn: Michelle Williams gives us a fractured Monroe, one who basks in the adulation of an impromptu audience but is overcome by terrible nerves on a film set; one who can flirt shamelessly with a man twice her age, and who has been married three times, but who also seems capable of genuine feeling. The performer is inextricable from the person, the object blurs into the subject; we never gain close access to Monroe, seeing her only through the eyes of a fairly anonymous film crew.
All of this is contextualised, of course, by the rise of film itself as a major industry, one beginning to eclipse the stage: one of the plot strands of My Week with Marilyn deals with Laurence Olivier’s jealousy of Monroe’s unaffected camera acting. This is a dangerous game for a film, since it inevitably reminds us that we ourselves are watching a fiction, a created thing and not a truth; a film about a star itself crammed with acting royalty (including a profoundly unconvincing turn from Emma Watson as Redmayne’s alternative love interest). But the film handles this decently, I think: everything that happens on the film set is so illusory, so unreal, and contains so little convincing mundanity (even Redmayne’s family lives in a palatial estate) that the metatheatrical subtext only deepens its various ironies.
For the most part, it’s an enjoyable and well-made film, if not one I’d see again. At only 90 minutes long, it’s great for a Sunday afternoon, even if you’re not terribly interested in Monroe herself.