Directed By: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh
Line from the film: "Little girls should be told how pretty they are. They should grow up knowing how much their mother loves them"
Trivia: Catherine Zeta-Jones was approached to play Vivien Leigh, but declined in favor to spend time with ailing husband Michael Douglas
I’m a sucker for movies like My Week with Marilyn, a supposed real-life account of what transpired when Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe teamed up to make the 1957 romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl. I’ve covered that film on the blog, and while I wouldn’t say it’s the best work either performer ever did, Monroe does manage to shine as the dancer thrust unexpectedly into the role of a royal escort. But it wasn’t long into My Week with Marilyn that I completely forgot it was a behind-the-scenes exposé. Not only does Michelle Williams look every bit as radiant as the actress she portrayed, she also commands the screen in much the same way Monroe did, making it easy to see why Colin Clark (the film’s protagonist) and everyone else fell madly in love with Marilyn during those long weeks of production.
Eager to break into the movies, young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) ignores the advice of his upper-class parents and heads to London, where, by chance, he encounters family friend Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and his wife, Vivien Leigh (Julie Ormond). At Leigh’s insistence, Colin is hired to work as 3rd director on Olivier’s upcoming picture The Prince and the Showgirl, which will co-star American sex goddess Marilyn Monroe (Williams). It was the first time the acclaimed actress traveled outside the United States to make a film, and the experience would not be a good one for either Monroe or her esteemed director. Turning up late to the set every day, Marilyn also had difficulty memorizing her lines, and insisted that her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) be always at her side, which frustrated Olivier to the point of distraction.
At Sir Laurence’s request, Colin is assigned the thankless task of keeping an eye on the troubled actress, who, aside from her unhappy marriage to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), is taking a steady stream of drugs to help her “relax”. But over the course of the week he spends with her, Colin, like so many others, falls in love with Monroe, who, in turn, sees him as one of the few members of the crew she can actually trust. With his assistance, Marilyn completes the movie, but is there room for him in her already crowded life, or was this simply a week-long tryst that he will remember forever?
Based on the memoirs of the real Colin Clark, My Week with Marilyn features an all-star cast, including Dame Judi Dench as renowned actress Sybil Thorndike, the only co-star who defended Monroe; and Emma Watson as Lucy, the girl Colin was dating during that very tumultuous period. As Olivier, Kenneth Branagh gives one of his finest performances in years, playing the famed actor/director as an artist who, though initially smitten with her, regrets his decision to cast Marilyn in his movie, while recent Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) is near-flawless as the naive young man in love with a world-famous beauty.
But like Marilyn Monroe before her, it’s Michelle Williams who demands your attention, bringing to life an icon who, deep down, was an insecure little girl, anxious to please those around her. At several points throughout the movie, Williams perfectly conveys the actress’s famous sex appeal (while touring Windsor Castle, she struts her stuff for the royal servants that have gathered at the bottom of a staircase to see her), yet is equally as good playing Monroe as a wounded soul, bursting into tears when the pressure closes in on her (in what may be the film’s most poignant scene, Colin, fearing Marilyn might have overdosed on pills, climbs through her bedroom window, at which point she, clearly under the influence, asks him to lie beside her in bed, making him promise he won’t leave until morning). Williams’ performance was so convincing, in fact, that it garnered her numerous award nominations, including an Oscar (which she lost to Meryl Streep for The Iron Horse) and a Golden Globe (which she won).
To say My Week with Marilyn is better than The Prince and the Showgirl is an understatement (again, I did enjoy that 1957 movie, mostly because Monroe’s spirited turn makes up for its shortcomings). But after seeing this film, I want to watch The Prince and the Showgirl one more time, if for no other reason than to marvel at what Marilyn Monroe was able to accomplish in spite of it all.