In 1956, Marilyn Monroe spent a week in Britain filming The Prince and the Showgirl opposite Laurence Olivier, who was also the film’s director. During that week, Marilyn, newly wed to playwright Arthur Miller, was looked after by the director’s third assistant Colin Clark, who was given the task of trying to encourage her to do that most difficult of tasks for Marilyn Monroe – turning up on time to set. Clark told the story of this week in his memoirs and that book, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me, is the inspiration for My Week with Marilyn. Directed by Simon Curtis, My Week with Marilyn stars an utterly beguiling, charming and enchanting Michelle Williams, who comes closer than one would ever have thought possible to capturing the screen goddess, whether in front of the camera or fleeing from it.
Laurence Olivier’s exasperation with his leading lady is well known – Marilyn most certainly added a whole new level of meaning to the word ‘difficult’ – but not unexpectedly everyone falls in love with Marilyn. The young Colin is no exception and, perhaps because of his youth, Marilyn sees him as an ally, a friend who will take ‘her side’ against these powerful and controlling men, Olivier and her husband Miller. The two play truant for a day, escaping into the country from directors, managers, coaches, cameras and adoring fans, all of whom want a piece of Marilyn and demand her love.
My Week with Marilyn is not a weighty drama; there is no deep scrutiny and examination of Marilyn’s fragility (or her pill-taking for instance). Instead, the film is a bewitching portrayal of a legend whose flaws contributed to her being. 1950s’ England is recreated with loving attention to detail, as is the absolute star power of Marilyn Monroe. She is the flame and everyone around her flutters like a moth. Could there have been anyone more famous? No wonder she troubled Olivier so much. The filmset of The Prince and The Showgirl is recreated so accurately that scenes are even filmed in the same studio.
And then there’s the cast. Michelle Williams is superb. She has that glowing beauty and blonde fagility combined with luxurious, sexy curves and then there’s that voice and that wiggle. Kenneth Branagh is perfect as Laurence Olivier, but then he would be. Judi Dench plays fellow actress Dame Sybil Thorndike whose kindness to the film actress, lost amongst all these stage legends, is extremely touching and a wonderful highlight of My Week with Marilyn. Eddie Redmayne does a fine job as the hero, Colin, never detracting from Marilyn and always kind in his infatuation.
At one point, I was wondering if there were any British actors not in My Week with Marilyn. There’s Derek Jacobi, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Geraldine Somervile, Michael Kitchen, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wannamaker, and surely that was Downton Abbey‘s Brendan Coyle. In fact, My Week with Marilyn puts The King’s Speech into the shade in terms of acting genes.
There were a few irritations – Michelle Williams’ hips: they were padded or constructed and looked it; Vivien Leigh says she’s 43 years old: she certainly doesn’t look it; Emma Watson’s wig: frightful and horrid. Emma Watson was for me the weak link here and not just for the wig.
Michelle Williams mesmerises when she’s on screen and yet she is also a reminder of what a fabulous star Marilyn Monroe was. The real Marilyn was never far from my mind as I watched Michelle’s remarkable homage to her. As a result, My Week with Marilyn can’t fail and is an absolute pleasure to soak in, as if it were indeed a bath of champagne bubbles.