With brilliant performances from Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn is a behind the curtain look at one of Hollywood’s biggest icons and one of its greatest actors.
Based on Colin Clark's books The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn, the film was directed by Simon Curtis (Cranford) and written by Adrian Hodges (1994's Tom & Viv). Along with Branagh and Williams, it stars Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott, Pip Torrens, Geraldine Somerville, Michael Kitchen, Miranda Raison, Karl Moffatt, Simon Russell Beale, Toby Jones, Robert Portal, Philip Jackson, and Jim Carter.
The film opens with 23-year-old Colin Clark (a wide-eyed Redmayne) explaining his love of the movies while watching Marilyn Monroe (Williams) singing on the big screen. Clark’s dream is to be part of the movie world and he is determined to make the most of a chance opportunity to work with Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) on his next film, 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier is directing and starring the film and has cast Monroe as his love interest.
Along with the entire nation, Clark is in awe of Monroe as she arrives with her husband Arthur Miller (Scott), her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), her business partner, Milton H. Greene (Cooper), and her publicist Arthur Jacobs (Jones). The press treats Monroe like royalty making the most of a press conference with Miller, Monroe, Olivier, and Olivier's wife Vivien Leigh (Ormond) - who had played Monroe's part in the stage play the film was based on.
It doesn’t take long for the glamor of Monroe to wear off on Olivier and the actor quickly clashes with some of Monroe’s demands and her inability to show up to the set on time. Olivier also clashes with the actress’ need to have her acting coach with her on set, and the way Paula seems to think she is the director of the film. These clashes bring several laughs to the film and Branagh does a great job showing a befuddled Olivier being put in his place.
Although he is only a third assistant to Olivier, Clark finds his responsibilities quickly expanding as he catches the attention of Monroe and strikes up a nervous friendship with her. Clark also finds romance with the film’s costume girl Lucy (Watson).
As the movie gets going, Monroe’s problems off camera start to interrupt her ability to perform, and drive Olivier to the breaking point. The talented actor clashes with Monroe’s acting style and is constantly trying to make her act the way he wants. He even attempts to make her apologize to the other cast – before being reprimanded by Dame Sybil Thorndike (an incredible performance from Dame Judi Dench).
In between the problems on the set, Monroe’s life seems to unravel as Miller heads back to New York; her handlers keep her supplied in pills; and her doubts and fears seem to cripple her ability to act. The problems also spur a light romance with Clark – who seems to be the only one able to get Monroe in front of the camera.
Although everyone tells him not to fall in love with her, Clark is spellbound by Monroe, and is over his head from the second he sees her. Of all the people working on the film, he seems to be the only one who truly cares for Monroe, but it is clear he is in for heartbreak. Redmayne plays the character as always overeager and scared the entire time he is on screen. He is completely nervous to be around Monroe, but comes running every time she calls.
My Week with Marilyn is a charming film and features a beautiful performance from Williams – who earned an Academy Award Best Actress nomination. The talented actress is completely believable in the role of Monroe (even the spitting image of her at times), and it is easy to see why Clark falls in love with her from the first second he meets her.
Williams captures all the mannerisms and iconic expressions of the screen legend, but she also brings a tragic vulnerability to Monroe. She makes Monroe an extremely complex character (able to make you laugh and break your heart with a bat of her eyes) and does it all effortlessly.
Branagh’s Olivier is a complex character who is not completely likeable. He comes across as somewhat vain, but is also willing to give Clark a chance at his dream of working in the movies. He seems to consider Monroe as a talentless actress (even demanding she stop trying to act and just look sexy for the camera), but is jealous of her natural ability to own the camera and audience.
Branagh (who earned an Academy Award nomination for Actor In a Supporting Role) also seems more than a tad jealous of Clark’s relationship with Monroe – despite the fact he is married to Leigh.
The film looks incredible on Blu-ray. The format is perfect for capturing the beauty of Williams, Cinematography of Ben Smithard, production design of Donal Woods, and costume design of Jill Taylor.
Given the film’s success at the awards ceremonies this year, it is a little light on special features with only commentary from Curtis and The Untold Story of an American Icon -a look at the making of the film and Monroe. It would have been nice if they included more of a look at the actual Prince and the Showgirl.
Thanks to the charm and brilliance of Williams’ performance, My Week with Marilyn captures the audience within the opening moments of the film, and keeps you spellbound until the end credits finish rolling. I wish it could have had more special features, but the Blu-ray looks incredible, and the film is more than worth the purchase price.
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