'Ageing, vulnerable and unstable: My Week with Marilyn and popular perceptions of Vivien Leigh'
Journal of British Cinema and Television
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This article will argue that My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011), despite its central focus on Marilyn Monroe, offers important peripheral insights into the way in which Vivien Leigh is popularly perceived as neurotic and unstable, particularly in relation to her ageing, and that it depicts a moment in her life and career that calls for deeper analysis than this film affords. Leigh, played by Julia Ormond, appears in six scenes in the film, which depict her as threatened by Marilyn Monroe on personal and professional fronts. Drawing on material from the Vivien Leigh archive held by the V&A to assist in analysing Leigh’s image and career at this time, it is possible to construct a counter-narrative which acknowledges her personal difficulties but also her professional successes, creating a more complex picture of Leigh that both resists some of the negativities conveyed by My Week with Marilyn and also enables a fuller understanding of the circumstances that led to this kind of depiction. This article reads the Vivien Leigh scenes in My Week with Marilyn as an inadequate mini-biopic, and takes them as a departure point to highlight the caricature the film presents and examine some of the reasons why this might be the case. In doing so, it exposes the assumptions made about the role of ageing in the careers of Leigh and Ormond, and the significance of the elisions and omissions.
- Department of Drama