2011, Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Simon Curtis.
Among the most iconic images of the twentieth century are those of Marilyn Monroe; beautiful, sexy, breathtaking, hypnotic. That’s how most people tend to think of her. Those images, however, are only half the picture; she was also sad, confused, frightened, mentally imbalanced, lonely, overmedicated. My Week with Marilyn offers a glimpse of what the whole picture might have been like.
This movie is based on the real story of Colin Clark, a young film student who landed a job with Sir Laurence Olivier’s production company when he was preparing to direct and star in the movie The Prince and the Showgirl opposite Monroe as the female lead. The film was to be a light comedy designed to showcase Marilyn’s singular brand of “screen presence.” Colin, thrilled even with the lowly position of gopher on the set, is as excited to see Marilyn Monroe as anyone else.
All is not well on set, though, as day after day Marilyn shows up late, if at all, and has to perform take after take after take of her scenes to get her lines right. Olivier is infuriated; as an old-school stage actor he expects the same discipline and professionalism from film actors as he is accustomed to in the serious theater. In the midst of desperately trying to find some way to accommodate Marilyn’s eccentricities and get on with the production, Colin accidentally endears himself to her, his wide-eyed innocence and honesty appealing to her vulnerable side.
So for a brief time Colin finds himself at her beck and call, a rare opportunity to get to know a little about the sad and lonely Norma Jean Baker under the façade of glamorous Marilyn Monroe.
Kenneth Branagh is excellent as Laurence Olivier as is Eddie Redmayne in the role of Colin Clark. As great as they are, the most brilliant thing about this movie is how mesmerizing Michelle Williams is as Monroe. She completely transformed herself into the tragic star from head to toe, scoring a bull’s eye with both the Norma Jean and the Marilyn aspects of the world-famous bombshell. Watching her recreation of several memorable performances, I found myself wondering if footage of the real Marilyn from the 1950’s had been inserted in the movie; no, it was all Michelle Williams.
Colin Clark went on to a successful writing and filmmaking career, mostly documentaries. Among his works are memoirs of the time he spent working on The Prince and the Showgirl from which My Week with Marilyn is derived. In many ways this film is just as much a behind-the-scenes peek at diametrically opposed acting styles and the daily triumphs and frustrations on a movie set as it is about the tragedy that was the life of Marilyn Monroe.