Michelle Williams channels Hollywood’s most notorious blonde bombshell in director Simon Curtis’ “My Week with Marilyn”, an account of the late star’s collaboration with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) through the eyes of his young assistant. Replete with vivid reinventions of well-known personalities by an impeccable cast and a decadently vintage aesthetic, the film is a welcome respite from the action and CGI-heavy fruits of last season that will undoubtedly make you long for a bygone era of moviemaking.
In 1956 Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23 year-old cinephile, leaves his wealthy family’s country estate to try his luck in London, where weeks of persistence finally land him a job with a production company set to begin shooting “The Prince and the Showgirl” – a light-hearted comedy co-starring Sir Laurence and Marilyn Monroe. Already off to a bumpy start due to complications with husband Arthur Miller’s (Dougray Scott) passport, the production has the added pressure of being Marilyn’s first non-Hollywood gig as well as Sir Laurence’s directorial debut.
Once the cameras finally begin to roll it immediately becomes apparent that, despite her innate magnetism, Marilyn sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the English acting elite. Having achieved sex-symbol status, she tries desperately to be taken more seriously as an actress, even bringing method-acting pioneer Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) to set every day, much to Sir Laurence’s annoyance. Tensions escalate as all the rumors about working with Marilyn prove to be true (including consistently arriving late to work, being perpetually doped up on drugs, etc.), when Sir Laurence finally decides to send Colin to Marilyn’s dressing room as an intermediary. But instead of galvanizing the unruly actress, the two form an unlikely bond: Colin, a boy infatuated for the first time, and Marilyn, looking for love as her marriage to Miller crumbles.
Williams is by no means an impressionist, but rather portrays the title character in a way that breathes new life into what records we have left of the star. And while she never quite achieves the same sensuality that made Marilyn famous, Williams does capture the fragile spirit that existed beneath the buxom surface – the vulnerable woman-child longing to be loved and looking to mature in her career even if it meant denying her own strengths as a comedienne. Branagh, as the pompous leading man and tyrant of the set, provides much of the laughs while Redmayne, his foil, is all wide-eyed earnestness. The real treat, though, is when “Action!” is called on the set of “The Prince and the Showgirl” and we get to see the actors acting; not just Williams as Marilyn and Branagh as Sir Laurence, but also Judi Dench as the regal Dame Sybil Thorndike.
Rooted in reality by the real Colin Clark’s memoirs, “My Week with Marilyn” is a bittersweet, nostalgic love story that reminds us why, decades after her death, we can never forget her. While the scope of the story only hints at the tragedies that would later befall the actress, it points to the early signs, quirks and insecurities that no one else seemed to understand about her. And so, like Colin, all we are left with are memories and questions.