rating: 4It's been 50 years since the tragic death of Hollywood's most tortured star, Marilyn Monroe, but her legacy lives on and her legend remains as popular today as when she was alive. My Week With Marilyn - released this week on Blu-ray and DVD - offers a tender and intriguing glimpse at the woman behind the façade. Read on for our review... In the early summer of 1956, 23 year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), just down from Oxford and determined to make his way in the film business, worked as a lowly assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. The film that famously united Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), who was also on honeymoon with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougary Scott). Nearly 40 years on, his diary account The Prince, the Showgirl and Me was published, but one week was missing and this was published some years later as My Week with Marilyn this is the story of that week. When Arthur Miller leaves England, the coast is clear for Colin to introduce Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life; an idyllic week in which he escorted a Monroe desperate to get away from her retinue of Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work. Films based on biographies are often complete trash (Mommie Dearest could quite possibly be the biggest crime against cinema!), so you'd be forgiven if you wrote My Week With Marilyn off as another load of codswallop! Based on Colin Clark's written memoirs, The Prince, the Showgirl & Me and My Week With Marilyn, the film is lovely look at the rather more private Marilyn Monroe that existed behind the camera. Whilst films based on such memories are probably never completely true, thoughts of the realities of the narrative quickly fade away as viewers as instantly wrapped up in the world of it's characters. The incredibly engaging narrative meanders through waves of emotion, drama, comedy and romance to sick viewers into it's fantastic tale. The narrative delves deeply into the personalities of it's iconic characters to offer images that viewers will be keen to take as fundamental truths. The innate fragility and heart-wrenching vulnerability of Marilyn Monroe is touchingly brought to the screen, as is the obsessive and incredible genius of Laurence Olivier. The film breathes such life into these well known personalities that they become infinitely more human, with audiences particularly being offered a brief glimpse at the woman behind the manufactured Marilyn Monroe façade. Director Simon Curtis tackles his subject with such affection and devotion that viewers will find themselves lost in his wonderful creation. This is true of the film on a more technical level too. Curtis employs a tranquil, lyrical pace to the proceedings that keeps the plot moving but never makes it feel rushed. The camera lingers lovingly on Williams in a number of close ups that try to emphasise a physical likeness between her and Monroe: this isn't always successful, but the actress certainly looks radiant in these shots. Curtis has also chosen beautiful British locations that help anchor the film and make a nice contrast with the obviously American Monroe (and her entourage). The actual locations that were implicit in the real Monroe and Clark's time together make appearances here, which helps heighten the sense of reality in the narrative. My Week With Marilyn is very much a performance driven film and it's stars do not disappoint Monroe is such an iconic persona that it is surely a gargantuan task to play her on screen. Michelle Williams slides into the role with gusto and what she lacks in physical likeness she more than makes up for in her embodiment of Monroe's movements and actions. Williams gives a simultaneously fragile and sensual performance, perfectly capturing the mental anguish Monroe was feeling at this point in her career and personal life. When Williams breaks down, the audience really feels the pain of her character, but she equally captures the confident and sexually provocative side of the personality too. The actress seamlessly slides between the two personas Monroe embodied and evokes a real truth when she turns to Clark and reveals that she is about to turn on the 'public's' Marilyn (a more sultry and sexily confident woman). Williams gives an understated performance that cleverly hints at the contradictory personality of Marilyn Monroe, revealing a side of the star that many will not be familiar with. She may not be the most physically similar actress to Monroe (Susan Griffiths from Marilyn & Me is much more of a dead ringer for the star and even Mira Sorvino fashions more of a likeness in Norma Jean & Marilyn), but Williams certainly brings the most tender and realistic portrayal of the Hollywood legend to the screen. Eddie Redmayne is equally successful in the role of Colin Clark, evoking the character's youthful exuberance with panache. Redmayne manages to make Clark painfully naive and innocent, yet also the only character with the sense and emotion to treat Marilyn with affection, listening to her when she needs someone to. Although Clark comes from a wealthy family and a privileged background he wants to 'make it on his own' in the film industry and Redmayne makes this determination within the character believable (if only the industry was as easy to break into today as it appears to have been back in the 1950s!), which brings a reality to his performance that could very easily have been lost in the romantic elements of the plot. Essentially, Clark is an incredibly sympathetic and passionate character (matching the passion and warmth of Monroe here) and, as such, is extremely likeable. He effectively conveys this in his performance and it's very easy to imagine that if the real Clark was anything like the portrayal here, Monroe would have been far better retiring from the screen and settling down with him! Kenneth Branagh confidently steps into the formidable shoes of that stalwart of British cinema, Laurence Olivier. Branagh - an actor and director of equal aplomb to Olivier - tackles the role with gumption and manages to replicate both the actor's image and persona to a tee. Branagh brings presence to the screen in his scenes, brilliantly capturing Olivier's obsession and ultimately frustration with Monroe during the production of The Prince & the Showgirl. The friction between the actor and Michelle Williams is electric, sparking with sexual tension and artistic frustrations, adding a provocative layer to the narrative. An incredible cast of supporting players help round up the collection of excellent performances here. Judi Dench has a small role as the wonderful (but sadly, largely forgotten) British stage performer Dame Sybil Thorndike, who apparently had a great like and compassion for Monroe. Dench steals her brief scenes here, making Thorndike a friendly but formidable character and very much a match for Olivier. Julia Ormond brings a sublime version of British actress Vivien Leigh (then married to Olivier) to the screen and is very good at depicting the public image of the star. Unfortunately, she's rather wasted here and only briefly gets to touch upon the fragile state of Leigh's mind. Ormond is excellent in a small sequence that sees her confront Olivier's obsession with Monroe (who was playing a character Leigh had originally brought to life on stage, because Olivier deemed his wife too old to play her on screen). With such tension surrounding the situation, the potential drama is unfortunately wasted and an additional layer to the narrative is virtually lost. Although she only makes a handful of brief appearances, Ormond makes for a strong Vivien Leigh and glimmers of a physical likeness are apparent at times. Emma Watson makes an appearance that seems more like an effort to draw younger viewers into the audience and she doesn't give her best work here. Whilst her character - wardrobe assistant Lucy - adds another dimension to Redmayne's character, Watson is rather stilted in her performance (particularly when compared to the other performers) and fails to breath much vitality into her character. What should be a brassy and spunky young woman instead becomes rather irritating and viewers would be forgiven for thinking Monroe is a better match for Clark! The final supporting actress of note is Zoe Wanamaker as Monroe's indomitable acting coach Paula Strasberg. With a whiny, nasal accent, Wanamaker successfully exhibits how annoying and frustrating Strasberg's omniscient influence over Monroe was for others. With an influence as dominating as Strasberg's, it's easy to understand why Monroe was at such a difficult stage in her life and Wanamaker's performance perfectly enforces this feeling. Similarly solid support also comes from Dougray Scott as Marilyn's latest husband, playwright Arthur Miller; Derek Jacobi as Clark's uncle, Sir Owen Morshead; and Dominic Cooper as Monroe's former lover, Milton Greene.
QUALITYThe overall quality of this Blu-ray release is very strong, with only a few very minor imperfections to note. The visuals are close to flawless, with virtually no blemishing or distortion throughout the entire runtime. The odd flicker of grain is noticeable in certain scenes, but these appear at infrequent intervals and the level of grain is slight enough to prevent from becoming a distraction or irritation. The film evokes a gorgeous, expressive colour palette that ranges from deep, earthy greens, browns and oranges to the rich, sumptuous gold, mahogany and pink tones of the Prince and the Showgirl sets. The definition is superb, with even the smallest details in a scene being crystal clear. This adds a real sense of texture to the images and heightens the sense of reality. Michelle Williams' close ups are simply radiant due to this clarity and viewers can practically wipe away the tears as her eyes well up or literally feel the warmth when her perfect smile beams. The audio is also of an excellent quality, with a clean and clear dialogue track running throughout. On occasion a few lines of dialogue seem to get swallowed up by the ambient sounds or the musical soundtrack, but along similar lines to the graininess in the visuals these occurrences are few and far between and, as such, refrain from detracting from the overall viewing experience. The narrative is accompanied by a mellow but expressive musical score that perfectly reflects the fragile and rather tortured action between Monroe and the other characters on screen. The score manages to be uplifting and beautiful whilst maintaining a sense of sorrow and fragility that mimics Monroe's personality at this point in her life extremely effectively. The overall quality of the release means that audiences are definitely in for a high definition treat!
EXTRASUnfortunately, the supplementary features that accompany this release fail to impress as much as the film itself. With a subject such as Marilyn Monroe and the making of an iconic film, most viewers would expect at least one documentary looking at either, right? Well no luck here I'm afraid! Audiences can expect to find the below housed on the release: Audio Commentary with Director Simon Curtis The Untold Story of an American Icon Featurette Film: 4 out of 5 With wonderful performances, beautiful locations and an intriguing and affecting narrative, My Week With Marilyn is a superb film that offers viewers a unique insight into the backstage persona of one of Hollywood's best loved icons. In fact it's such an entertaining film you probably won't even be bothered about how much is based on fact! Visuals: 4.5 out of 5 Virtually flawless, the print on this Blu-ray is afflicted with the lightest of grains in a few intermittent scenes. With a rich and expressive colour palette and crystal clear definition too, the visuals on this release boast exactly what HD is about. Audio: 4 out of 5 Dialogue is clean and clear for the most part here, with only the odd line lost in the ambient sounds or musical soundtrack. The score is light but expressive and helps capture the on screen action perfectly. Extras: 2.5 out of 5 Unfortunately, for a Blu-ray release the collection of supplementary features is rather paltry and more than a little disappointing. Whilst the accompanying documentaries are engaging and informative to an extent, they simply don't even begin to delve deep enough into the films production or subject to satisfy even the most casual of Monroe enthusiasts. More archival footage or a documentary on either Monroe or The Prince and the Showgirl would have been much appreciated here! Presentation: 4 out of 5 The front cover image replicates the poster ad campaign for the films theatrical release, which sums up the narrative nicely. Menus are attractive and manoeuvre around, but are nothing out of the ordinary. Overall: 4 out of 5 A brilliant film is given a rather light -and subsequently disappointing - release that doesn't exactly boast the superiority of a Blu-ray discs capacity. However, despite this, the film is presented in glorious high definition that gives viewers near perfect images and sound. Plus the film is such an engaging and moving piece of cinema that this release should find it's way into most viewers' collection. My Week With Marilyn is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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