Marilyn Monroe: Icon. Legend. Sex symbol. Actress. Singer. Model. Showgirl. Producer. Monroe’s legacy is full of positive adoration but My Week with Marilyn, based on the book The Prince, the Showgirl and Me by Colin Clark, tells a darker story of the troubled starlet who became increasingly “difficult” to work with in her career. It’s a powerful portrait painted as if it were 1957 and Monroe herself was still on set commanding attention.
In 1956, determined to succeed in the film business, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) becomes the third assistant director to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark discovers he’ll be on site with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), making My Week with Marilyn his account of the reputed tensions between Monroe and Olivier. Once he professes his allegiance to Marilyn, he becomes her most trusted confidant and her desperation for escapism becomes increasingly apparent.
The film draws attention to Monroe’s depression as she tries to cope with her own celebrity and dependency on alcohol and pills. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) was entrusted to breathe life into this portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, into this woman who just wants to “be loved like a regular girl,” but wants to be the best wife to her husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), while becomming a great film actress. Williams soars, especially in her reactions shots as Monroe, though no recreated performance could ever compare to the original. The subtle, nuanced internal struggles are written on Williams’ face perfectly and for good reason. As depicted, Monroe struggled to accept her performance as strong enough or worthy of a film star. Williams mirrors this uncertainty as she tries to deliver on expectations of greatness which lends itself perfectly to the role. In preparation, Williams taped her legs together to learn Monroe’s walk, added an airy quality to her voice and mastered the signature smile, mannerisms and winks.
A strong supporting cast is put in place for Williams, including Julia Ormond (Vivien Leigh), Zoë Wanamaker (Paula Strasberg), and Judi Dench (Dame Sybil Thorndike), all of whom Williams has chemistry with, but none moreso than prominent co-star Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne, who is relatively new to acting and lesser known, acts as the perfect balance to Michelle Williams’ on-screen commanding female. He appears uncertain, naive and vulnerable, which is exactly how Colin Clark would appear beside an international celebrity such as Monroe. It’s a nice dynamic allowing each actor to create their own memorable performance in the nostalgic atmosphere created by director Simon Curtis.
Curtis went to great lengths to create the feel of the movie, including using a subdued color palet that works with the technicolor process and the original music of composer Conrad Pope. Pope created cool jazz instrumentals with vibes and marimbas to compliment each individual scene. Marilyn’ s score and soundtrack (which includes “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Autumn Leaves” by Nat “King” Cole) helped with the 1956-1957 immersion Simon Curtis aimed for, as did the witty, intelligent screenplay.
Screenwriter Adrian Hodges adapted Colin Clark’s books to craft a story that highlights the insecurities and mental fagility of Marilyn Monroe while also noting several classical film debates and moments specific to the times including unions, Strasberg’s “Method” vs. “Craft” acting and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hodges’ screenplay allows My Week with Marilyn to serve as a historical reference (of sorts) but also offers some social commentary on the state of women in Hollywood today, for example, Vivien Leigh (Ormond) says to Marilyn, “I’m 43 darling, no one will love me for very much longer – not even you.”
Beyond the words are timeless images and moments including a paparazzi scene with hundreds of camera flashes, the opening and closing musical numbers and the moment Marilyn is watching the rushes. It’s a great film with a timeless feel that says, “We are such stuff as dreams are made of” and as Colin says, “My only talent was not to close my eyes.”