Recreating the past can be hazardous to your health, especially when it comes to an icon like Marilyn Monroe. The blond bombshell is so well-known that most people carry around a fixed image of her in their heads. Modern attempts to recreate her, or any incidents from her too-short life, would seem foolhardy.
So rather than recreate her, director Simon Curtis and actress Michelle Williams have gone one better, by capturing her spirit in My Week with Marilyn. The movie itself is a slight bit of fancy, ably adapted by Adrian Hodges from two books by Colin Clark in which he recalled the making of The Prince and the Showgirl from his perspective as one of Laurence Olivier’s assistants. According to Clark, he and Marilyn had a brief, deeply-felt fling during the production.
Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter in the context of this movie. What comes across in My Week with Marilyn is that it feels like it really happened, even though it could just as well be a fantasy. With its comic framework, lovely period detail, and fussy impersonations of everyone from Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) to Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) to Dame Sybil Thorndyke (Judi Dench) to Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones) to Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) to Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) to Jack Cardiff (Karl Moffatt), again, what shines through consistently is the emotional authenticity.
As young Colin, Eddie Redmayne is an ambitious go-getter, so determined to work in the movies that he sits in an outer office at Olivier’s production company, waiting to apply for a job that may never materialize. It does, eventually, and Colin’s eager-to-please attitude gets him next to Olivier and in position to observe the divine Marilyn Monroe when she arrives in Britain to film The Prince and the Showgirl. He’s already begun to romance (tentatively) a lovely studio worker named Lucy (Emma Watson), but Marilyn is different: she’s a goddess! And Colin worships her like a divine being.
In time, he becomes close to Marilyn, and takes her side when her insecurities overflow. Olivier directs her brusquely, and others become impatient with her repeated delays, creating division on the set. Marilyn’s supporters, among them acting coach Paula Strasberg and former flingmate Milton Greene, are protective of her, and keep pushing Colin away, but he’s caught Marilyn’s eye, and that can only lead to trouble.
Michelle Williams may not necessarily resemble Marilyn facially, but in her posture and movements and speech patterns, she’s close enough, and it’s in her spirit that she evokes a closer approximation of the troubled actress whose life story is so familiar and achingly painful. And, yes, when she casually drops her clothes in front of the startled (and grateful!) Colin, it may feel like a male fantasy come true, but the freeness of her actions — knowing that she’s being provocative, without necessarily being overtly sexual — are part and parcel of her delicate, fractured soul, barely holding together through repeated relationship turmoil and endless attempts to amelioriate her emotional agonies through medication, legal and otherwise.
Williams’ performance outshines My Week with Marilyn as a whole, which is, nonetheless, a good-faith serio-comic picture about the pleasures and pitfalls of making movies, and not a bad way at all to spend 99 minutes of your life.
— From my review at Twitch.
My Week with Marilyn is now playing at Landmark Magnolia, AMC NorthPark 15, Angelika Plano, and AMC Grapevine Mills 30.