Wouldn’t we all love to know Marilyn Monroe? The fashion, music and film icon of the mid-twentieth century lives on as one of the most beautiful creatures to have graced the rest of world with her presence. She’s the answer to many “If you could have dinner with any person dead or alive, who would it be?” questions. But what if we could actually share a meal with her? In 1956, aspiring filmmaker Colin Clarke was able to do much more with Ms. Monroe than many men and women through the ages could possibly dream.
My Week with Marilyn follows the true story of Clarke’s misadventures working on the film The Prince and the Showgirl at Pinewood Studios in England. Clarke, played by British actor Eddie Redmayne, stops at nothing to attain his dream job of working in the motion picture industry. Family connections provide significant help and he’s soon thrust into the midst of Sir Laurence Olivier’s grand production, becoming a third assistant director his first time out.
Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) harasses everyone with his tempestuous personality in pursuit of the perfect “light comedy.” His acting and directorial efforts are hampered by the consistent lateness and difficulty working with one Marilyn Monroe, the gorgeous and voluptuous Hollywood film star. Monroe, portrayed in an Oscar contending role by Michelle Williams, wants to be surrounded by a cohort of love and affection from those closest to her. They include long-time acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), photographer Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) and occasionally her brand new and infamously short-lived husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).
Crippled with depression and plagued by an overwhelming need for validation, Marilyn drives half the crew to insanity and the other half, particularly Clarke, to fall madly in love with her. Approval outside her inner circle is delivered almost solely by the sweet and assuring Dame Sybil Thorndike — played in a doppelganger role by Dame Judi Dench. My Week with Marilyn describes Clarke’s few days of romance with the sexy star in the midst of her breakdown while Miller retreats to New York.
The film never once strays too far from following the progress of The Prince and the Showgirl, which acts as a reliable timekeeper and catalyst for story development. Young love gone sour, hints of domestic violence and tempting affairs add touches of drama to an otherwise comedic effort by British director Simon Curtis. Old and new talent alike turns out, and never once are any of the actors’ capabilities questioned.
Supremely simple yet gorgeous production design mimics the simplistic beauty of Williams’ Monroe. As the film moves on, it becomes more difficult to look at anyone other than Williams. Her delicacy is unnerving, her exhaustion unrelenting and her grace — beyond words. Just as she’s already captured the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical or Comedy, she secures the heart of every viewer.