Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Derek Jacobi, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper
Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (books)
The Weinstein Company (US)
Audio Commentary; "Making Of" Featurette
I'll admit it. I tried not to surrender to the magic of Michelle Williams' performance as Marilyn Monroe in the widely acclaimed My Week With Marilyn, a performance that is so remarkable, substantial and entertaining that it pretty much proclaims as irrelevant the performances of virtually anyone else who has ever dared to try to climb into the heart and soul of this talented yet troubled beauty who died in 1962 under questionable circumstances at the age of 36.
My Week With Marilyn isn't a biopic, but more a slice of her life from the period where she co-starred in Sir Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl, a box-office flop with an underrated performance by Monroe opposite an exasperated Olivier. If you've seen Williams in such films as Blue Valentine, Meek's Cutoff, Brokeback Mountain and Shutter Island, then you'll likely quickly realize just how brilliant this performance is for the actress.
The Marilyn we see in My Week With Marilyn is a more layered and complex Marilyn than we typically see in films featuring the actress. Most films either focus on her beauty or, adversely, they seem to focus on the tragedy of her life. The film certainly gives us sexpot Marilyn, but Williams also beautifully and quite touchingly captures the vulnerable Marilyn who acts out, especially after her husband, the writer Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), leaves for a trip back to the U.S. from the location where Marilyn has gathered with the largely British cast for the filming of what is known here as The Sleeping Prince (which was the working title of The Prince and the Showgirl).
Left with only her acting coach, Method Acting legend Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), Marilyn's already slipshod work habits dissolve into not showing up to the set and partaking in alcohol and pills. The events that follow in My Week With Marilyn are up for significant debate, having been documented by Colin Clark, the son of art historian Sir Kenneth Clark and a third assistant director (Olivier's Assistant) on the film who became charged with visiting Marilyn. It was this visit, per Clark's own report, that led to their spending the better parts of two days together in a chaste, yet meaningful series of events that brought out the very best and worst that Marilyn had to offer.
There are two primary reasons for watching My Week With Marilyn, a film that too often feels flat, not exactly a word you'd use to describe Marilyn Monroe.
The first reason is for the pure joy of watching Marilyn's dynamics with the gracious yet combustible Olivier, who is brought to life wondrously and, at times, quite humorously by Kenneth Branagh. Branagh is certainly not a dead ringer for Olivier, but he's masterfully captured the actor's pacing and his absolute frustration at working with Monroe. The two of them together are a delight, while Branagh's scenes with Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark also infuse the film with a relaxed authenticity that helps to make it feel like one of the more grounded, realistic films to deal with Marilyn Monroe.
The second reason goes back to Clark, but this time it's his interactions with Marilyn Monroe. The relationship between Clark and Monroe was chaste, and Williams beautifully taps into that sense of innocence that would have unquestionably been attractive to Marilyn Monroe who, by this time in her life, was starting to become trapped in the Hollywood starlet role.
Zoe Wanamaker is also terrific as Paula Strasberg, whose primarily mission on her trip to England seems as much targeted towards irritating Olivier as it is advocating for and supporting Marilyn.
Worth seeing for Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn brings to mind another semi-biopic from this year featuring what will no doubt be another of the female lead actress Oscar nominations, The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep, though this film actually holds together much better and features a stronger ensemble cast (ever so slightly). The story itself, perhaps because it's only a slice of Marilyn's world, also feels more complete than does The Iron Lady, which often feels like it's capturing more media bytes than it is the actual life of Margaret Thatcher.
While the script here is thin and portions of the film don't particularly ring as true, there's little resisting the attraction towards Williams' magnificent portrayal of Monroe and director Simon Curtis's ability to capture both the gravity of Monroe's life and the seemingly mystical presence that Monroe projected on the screen and in real life.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic