My Week with Marilyn is the true story of a young man whose persistence and enthusiasm landed him a lowly position on the set of Laurence Olivier’s film The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). A dreamer, Colin Clarke (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself caught up in an unlikely, short-lived affair with the film’s star, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).
At 30 years old, Marilyn is shown kept on a steady diet of pills by her controlling management, newly married to her third husband, Playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), painfully insecure, desperately wishing to be taken seriously and as stubborn as her patronising co-star and director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
As Colin beautifully sums up, the heart of the problem between the unreliable Marilyn and the increasingly enraged Olivier reflected the changing tides of acting technique during this time: Olivier was a great actor who wanted to be a movie star and Monroe was a movie star who wanted to be a great actress.
The superb cast at first comes across as a cluster of high-class actors playing dress ups, but you find yourself sucked in by their confident performances in spite of yourself. The usually no-nonsense Judi Dench is just beautiful as the seasoned actress Dame Sybil Thorndike and Julia Ormond is truly heartbreaking as Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh, whose mature age causes her to doubt her husband’s love and lament the loss of her leading lady status.
Michelle Williams is simply glorious as Marilyn. She sings, dances and breaks your heart and fills it with joy and wonder simultaneously. If a girl, you want to be her friend, if a man, her lover. By her own admission, Michelle struggled through school and jokes that she has made up for it by studying Marilyn: “I woke up with her every morning and I went to bed with her every night.” To get the “wiggle”, she practiced walking with a belt tied around her knees. “Watching Michelle become Marilyn is by far the greatest experience of my career,” said director Simon Curtis. She captures the vulnerable side of Marilyn and what makes the performance most wonderful is its subtlety: one little look conveys so much.
My Week with Marilyn is but a glimpse of the real Marilyn’s perhaps surprisingly multi-faceted true self but it is a fascinating portrayal nonetheless. It works because we see Marilyn the way Colin saw her: briefly, intimately, and, most importantly, lovingly.