Is [My Week With Marilyn] True?: Based on a true story

Michelle Williams is so jaw-droppingly amazing as Marilyn Monroe, that when the movie finally ends, and the credits roll, and you remember once again that this was a film and not a documentary, it is impossible not to ask whoever was sitting next to you, or murmur softly to yourself… Was that all true?

It may be the most asked question in storytelling. How true are movies that say they are ‘based on a true story’? What are the liberties they took? What were the truths that are stranger than fiction? What is to be believed?

My Week With Marilyn is an extra tricky case. It was largely unverifiable because of how many people involved in the story had died and because the story was experiences shared between two people, one of which was dead, and the other is telling and profiting from the story. A context that screams that the movie cannot be ‘truth.’

And I think in the traditional sense of facts and accounts there is close to zero percent chance that Colin Clark (author/played by Eddie Redmayne in the movie) told the truth. And this is what most people want to know when they ask if a movie is true- ‘factually’ was it true? What happened and what didn’t? And here are four reasons why My Week With Marilyn probably wasn’t a factually true representation of Colin Clark’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe…

  1. I find it fishy that Colin waited so long to share this story. Yes, there is his built-in defense that if he shared it while Marilyn Monroe was alive, it could damage her reputation. But a large part of the story was dealing with her poor mental health due to abuses and liberties by her handlers. It seems negligible to be afraid she would look bad for… swimming naked with him? Giving him a kiss? Having a bad marriage to Arthur Miller? Not exactly a glass shattering revelation when it comes to Marilyn Monroe. Seems more likely that he waited until she and others died so he could not be refuted.
  • Colin ends up looking way too good in the end. He appears to be the helpful hero that Marilyn Monroe needed in order to get through her terrible ordeal and shoot this film when no one else understood her. He also is portrayed as this worker-savant who always has all the answers and impresses everyone around him against all odds. It all plays as a little self-serving which doesn’t make it false, but certainly harder to believe. These are symptoms of him using narrative license in his own portrayal. How much more was he willing to do so with Monroe?
  • This was every 1950’s movie-working male’s fantasy. Work on a film with Marilyn Monroe, have Marilyn Monroe notice you, helping Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Monroe falling in love with you. If I could go back in time and ask any random film-worker in 1950 to write a story about working on a film, we would’ve probably ended up with seven duplicates of Colin’s story. 
  • The story had lots of implausible logical leaps in work and relationship. At first, it is impossible to get in the movie business, but then Colin ends up with a job. Then he is a ‘third’ that does nothing but gets stuff for the assistant director, but he somehow ends up doing massively important work for Olivier and every other important person. He walks in on Marilyn naked, and soon after he is known and appreciate by Marilyn for his work. Marilyn kind of knows who Collin is, and then she is suddenly swimming naked with him and wanting him to spend the night comforting her. I know that is reducing it, but not by enough for me to not think it’s all a bit vague and convenient and fast for the large advancements he underwent. I know not all interactions are portrayed, but you’d think there would be some more development in a man who rose to such heights. Makes for one hell of a movie though…

So that’s why I think he was almost definitely factually lying, and if that is why you were reading, hit like and stop right here.

However, movies and storytelling are in a strange gray area, where the truth communicated is often more important than the details that communicate the story. And I would like to look at the question of “is it true” from a broader perspective.

Here is what I think is true from reading the book and watching My Week with Marilyn (and considering a lot of this stuff is documented outside of those sources). I think Marilyn Monroe had confidence issues. I think she craved affirmation, she was a hassle on the set, and caused all sorts of logistical issues because of her insecurities. I believe she manipulated men around her in an effort to gain adoration and confirmation, she probably used and dropped a trail of men outside of her marriages as well as her husbands. I believe she had addiction issues that were encouraged and caused by her ‘handlers,’ and they managed her insecurities in ways that exacerbated them, and I even think Colin Clark grew close to her, maybe had some chances to help her and interact with her behind the scenes (but nothing to the extent in the film). And I think Colin Clark saw all this on the set of The Sleeping Prince, and he saw these truths in real and personal ways and wanted to convey them in a personal story that people would read. 

Films are fictional portrayals of true things. Colin Clark set out to tell a true story and he probably did, it just wasn’t with a true story. That’s probably what ‘based on a true story’ means most of the time. This movie communicates what is true with what is not. You might hate that or love that, but we all will go and watch that.

So I think Colin lied, a lot, but I think in those lies he was better able to communicate what he saw and learned on the set of The Sleeping Prince. Because any story lover knows, sometimes the truth is in the fiction.

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If you liked this, you may also like: This Is How I Win [Uncut Gems]; A Race of Peeping Toms [Rear Window]; The Shape Of Characters In Pixar’s [Up]; Animated Dogs…Who Knew? [The Call of the Wild]

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