Equal parts dishy expose and intimate confession, My Week With Marilyn is the fact-based memoir of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) that recounts a brief period during the summer of 1956, in which the life of the lowly aspiring filmmaker crossed paths with that of the most famous actress in the world, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).
While in England serving as Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) third assistant director on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, young Colin was assigned to Marilyn with hopes of reeling in the diva’s well-documented erratic behavior. Little did he know, Marilyn would grow quite fond of her 23-year-old handler, despite being recently married to American playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott.) Marilyn’s legendary clashes with Olivier on the set, coupled with insecurities about her talent made the young actress deeply vulnerable. She just needed a friend and through a series of incidents, she became very close and intimate in a platonic way with Colin because he was always there. Despite his budding romance with the film’s wardrobe girl (Emma Watson), Colin soon finds himself smitten with Monroe and is pitted in a battle of wills between the aging Olivier and the much younger Monroe. My Week With Marilyn is his story.
How did a world-famous star at the height of her fame end up spending an intimate week travelling across England with a “go-fer” from the film set? That’s where most of the film’s intrigue can be found - in just how unlikely their relationship was. But the film’s magic spark comes from watching Michelle Williams capture the essence of the Hollywood icon, making her real and personifying the mystique. The film isn’t a biopic of the Marilyn Monroe we thought we knew, but rather a window into her life, working on a particular film and the relationship she forged with Colin Clark at a crucial moment in her life. Williams affords us wonderful insight into the very real side of Marilyn – scared, insecure, frantic, sometimes impossible – but at the same time vulnerable, sweet, endearing and just a young girl really.
Branagh is similarly brilliant as another larger-than-life big screen figure, Laurence Olivier. Olivier, at the time trying to reignite his career as a movie star in a volatile cultural landscape that only seemed to herald his own obsolescence, found himself sandwiched between the old and new guards. Struggling to deal with a bratty star only added to his pressures of hoping to finally grasp fame on the big screen. It will be a shame if Branagh is overlooked by the Academy for his alternately respectful and sardonic performance.
As Marilyn struggles to adapt to Olivier’s demanding set, it’s the esteemed actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, played by Judi Dench, who offers kind words and buffers Marilyn from the brutish Olivier. Dench reminds us why she won an Oscar for her Shakespeare in Love role.
Making a strong impression as Marilyn’s acting coach and Method advocate Paula Strasberg is Zoe Wanamaker. She’s Marilyn’s leading light and Olivier’s foil all wrapped up in a horn-rimmed, "Edna E. Mode" package.
There’s nothing deep or profound to be mined from the depths of My Week With Marilyn. At times, it feels like a classy made-for-TV biopic or a tailor-made award vehicle for all involved. But the performance of Michelle Williams is so strong and engaging and packs such an emotional wallop, all the film’s shortcomings are forgiven. Though it’s a subtle coming-of-age story about the arrogance of youth, the challenge in watching My Week With Marilyn comes from not having your heart broken by Marilyn Monroe.
MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Adrian Hodges
Cast: Michele Williams; Eddie Redmayne; Julia Ormond; Kenneth Branagh; Emma Watson
Tagline: My Week With Marilyn
Memorable Movie Quote: "Be careful not to get in too deep, son."
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Official Site: myweekwithmarilynmovie.com
Release Date: November 23, 2011 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: March 13, 2012
Synopsis: 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 Aurthur Miller (Dougray Scott).