30 November 2011

A Week Is a Long Time for a Third Assistant Director

I went to see My Week with Marilyn with Balham Babe on Saturday, although the fact that I haven't blogged about it until now is probably indicative of my relative ambivalence towards the film. I had been looking forward to seeing it since it was suggested as a possible surprise film at the London Film Festival. Since then, however, I've made the mistake of reading and listening to too many reviews of it, most of which describe it as fun and frothy but overly ambitious. This seems fair to me, although as these reviews lowered my expectations, they may well have reduced my enjoyment as well.

As the film opens, it is 1956 and, we are told by the title cards, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) is at the peak of her career. The ink still damp on the certificate for her marriage to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), she is all set to come to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl, directed by and starring the imposing Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh); Marilyn's role was portrayed on stage by Olivier's then wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), but Viv was deemed too old to play the eponymous showgirl on camera.

Meanwhile, in a castle/posh estate somewhere in the English countryside, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is lamenting his fate as his family's 'spare' rather than its 'heir.' But this status does mean that his family can humour Colin's desire to work in the movie business and they help to put him in touch with Olivier's production company. Through sheer persistence and some quick thinking, Clark manages to talk his way into the role of third assistant director on TPATS; task one: find a big house near the studios for Marilyn and her entourage (including her acting coach Paula (a very funny Zoƫ Wanamaker) and her manager Milton (Dominic Cooper, whose Noo Yawk accent could have been better)) to inhabit during filming.

Clark is terribly excited driving into the set on his first day, loves every bit of his job and promptly starts seeing the wardrobe assistant Lucy (Emma Watson). But the rest of the crew despair Marilyn's inability to: a) turn up to the set on time, b) learn her lines, and c) show suitable respect to her eminent co-cast members like Dame Sibyl (Dame Judi--a casting that wouldn't be out of place in a Private Eye parody). She does rather take a shine to young Colin, however, and before long, he's standing up Lucy and sneaking out with Marilyn to show her his old school (Eton, natch) and his godfather's place of employment (the library at Windsor Castle), and to go skinny dipping in the Thames. He soon realises just how troubled the actress is, even if he is rather flattered to know that he is the only person on set who can encourage Marilyn to do her job--and show up on time.

Perhaps fortunately, the film doesn't focus too much on Marilyn's problems, focusing instead on the fun and frolics of the film set and the unlikeliness of a young, green 'second son' becoming her closest confidant for one week only. Williams looked stunning and her performance was solid (she seemed to be channelling Jen Lindley in the Dawson's Creek finale). Redmayne was also charming as the eager beaver Clark (I first saw him playing Jack in Pillars of the Earth and he'll soon be in an adaptation of Birdsong, and BB and I were worried that he was way too young for us but apparently, he's nearly 30). Their friendship (or romance, or whatever it was) was convincing and they had good chemistry. MWWM is also a nice film for would-be film buffs like me--it's always fun to see what might have been going on behind the scenes in movies like TPATS. Many cast-members are, of course, somewhat underused but that's OK.

My most important question is: how do I get to become the third assistant director on Clive Owen's next film?

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