Discovered in 1942 by press photographers during a World War II photo shoot at the Radioplane plant in California, Norma Jean Mortenson left her job to sign with a modeling agency, ultimately becoming the most beautiful woman in Hollywood’s pantheon of stars. According to her dressmaker, her classic shape measured 37-23-36. She was voted by People magazine the ‘sexiest woman of the century’ thirty-seven years after her death. Wherever she went, at home and abroad her presence caused riots. Marilyn Monroe made only thirty films but will forever be an icon in film history. She died in 1962 at the age of thirty-six, discovered in her bedroom on an August morning, nude and face down on the bed, a telephone clutched in one hand.
In 1957, at the invitation of Britain’s eminent Laurence Olivier, Marilyn made her first trip to London to star alongside Olivier in a film called The Prince and the Showgirl. It was a difficult time for both stars and the film ended up a disappointment. Though he had great difficulty working with the American star, Olivier didn’t hesitate to acknowledge the peculiar genius of his co-star. Like many before him, he was forced to admit that the camera was in love with Marilyn Monroe. One of those working on the film was a young man hired as a third assistant director, in reality little more than a gofer. His name was Colin Clark and over the difficult months of filming he became close to the star. He kept a diary of those months and later published a book titled The Prince, the Showgirl and Me. That book served as the basis of the 2011 Academy Award nominated film, My Week with Marilyn.
On-set troubles with Marilyn Monroe had been a problem for some years before her arrival in London. She had already been replaced in two films for failing to show up, and her chronic lateness was legendary. Another problem came in the shape of her ‘acting coach’ Paula Strasberg, who often interfered with the director’s work. In addition to the well-known emotional troubles the actress suffered, her intake of pills and alcohol was increasing. On the first day of filming for The Prince and the Showgirl, all these problems were in attendance. When the situation became untenable, the young gofer Colin Clark proved to be the one a haunted Marilyn turned to as confidant.
With the support of two remarkable performances from Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh as Monroe and Olivier, director Simon Curtis has given us a beautiful film chronicling the story of the American star’s time in London. The director and his producers have created a film bristling with authenticity, and in fact, it was filmed on the same soundstage used for the 1957 picture. In addition to that, the house used for Marilyn’s residence was the very same one used originally. It is all a treat for the eyes, backed by a glorious soundtrack from Conrad Pope. The film’s theme is especially haunting, one composed by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat that Pope incorporated into his score. We are also treated to several numbers sung by Michelle Williams, including “That Old Black Magic” and “Heat Wave.”
In a period of filmmaking when bombs, bullets and CGI take precedence, it has become a rare treat to find a film showcasing a collaboration of good writing and directing, fine performances and beautifully conceived production design. My Week with Marilyn fits the bill perfectly.
I was so taken by the composer’s “Marilyn’s Theme” and the playing of Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, I wasted no time searching out the film’s soundtrack CD. The YouTube clip below is one of Lang Lang playing “Marilyn’s Theme.”