My Week With Marilyn (2011) has little to distinguish it beyond a strong performance by Michelle Williams in the leading role. This is not from want of trying. Simon Curtis’ film is handsomely produced, with a cast of talented performers in addition to Williams. Yet, somehow, the overall production comes off as a little too dutiful and by-the-numbers.
Adrian Hodges’ formulaic script is adapted from two memoirs by Colin Clark-The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me, and My Week With Marilyn. Clark, the son of art historian and broadcaster Kenneth Clark, knows Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. He manages to talk his way into a job as third assistant director on Olivier’s fourth starring/directing project, The Prince And The Showgirl.
Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) is a product of British repertory theater and values discipline above all else. His co-star, Marilyn Monroe (Williams), believes strongly in Method acting. Clashes between the two are immediate and epic. Clark (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself acting to support Monroe, and also falling for her.
There are subplots, like Clark’s short-lived romance with a wardrobe employee (Emma Watson). Monroe’s relationships with new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and self-interested acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Strasberg) are mentioned but not examined in depth.
It is odd the scenes involving production generate as little heat as they do. Stories abound concerning the extreme tension on the set of The Prince And The Showgirl. By this time (1957), Monroe had formed her own production company. Marilyn Monroe Productions purchased the rights to Terrence Rattigan’s 1953 play The Sleeping Prince. Rattigan himself adapted it for the screen as The Prince And The Showgirl. In the original stage production, Sir Laurence Olivier and his then-wife, Vivien Leigh, played the lead roles.
By all accounts, Olivier and Monroe clashed over working methods. Monroe’s perpetual lateness, inconsistent line delivery, and constant informal sessions with her acting coach drove Olivier insane. Olivier stoked Monroe’s chronic insecurity by having Vivien Leigh visit the film set. Making Monroe feel insecure typically meant she would be less reliable, which drove Olivier’s stress levels even higher.
It is not easy to add new dimensions to a role that has been played many times by others. That being said, Michelle Williams does an admirable job of evoking Monroe without obvious gimmicks. Her performance rings true, at least, to the woman we all think we know. Eddie Redmayne provides earnest and credible support as the besotted Clark.
Theme: Star Biopics
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