Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are both on scintillating form as Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier while a glorious crop of British acting royalty (Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Zoe Wanamaker, Julia Ormond) fill in the borders of director Simon Curtis’ “My Week with Marilyn” adaptation (from a memoir by Colin Clark) with colour and verve. Whether it all adds up to a film that will garner awards-season love is debatable (despite the stiff-upper-lip pedigree and evocative ‘50s setting, it’s not nearly as Academy friendly as “The King’s Speech”), but Williams, Branagh and the sumptuous costumes and art direction are certainly in with a shout.
Per the title, the film takes place over a week during the making of “The Prince And The Showgirl,” as greenhorn Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) cajoles his way into a personal-assistant’s gig on Olivier’s production and is there to witness the fractious, mistrustful relationship between two oversized legends as director and star squabble over her chronic tardiness and his crabby intolerance. As Monroe, Williams is just superb, going far beyond impersonation into an internalized, instinctive space that brings the platinum-blonde sex symbol’s messy vulnerability to vivid life. If she’s less convincing when asked to convey Marilyn’s va-va-voom charisma (the resemblance isn’t exactly prodigious), it doesn’t matter so much because the trepidatious insecurity is so tangible and heartbreaking.
Branagh is also magnificent as Olivier in a performance that does lean towards impersonation but doesn’t lack for wit, intelligence or bite. The film misses him badly when he’s not on screen, particularly in the second half when he vanishes as Monroe’s relationship with Redmayne veers towards romance. The rest of a stellar cast all have their moments too, particularly Dench as Monroe’s fruity co-star Dame Sybil Thorndike, Wanamaker as her possessive acting coach-cum-babysitter Paula Strasberg and Ormond as a thin-skinned Vivien Leigh. Only Emma Watson disappoints, Harry Potter’s Hermione feeling exposed even in a fairly bland role as a young wardrobe mistress Clark falls for before the bombshell icon weaves her spell.
“My Week With Marilyn” isn’t great cinema (matching its 1957 subject on that front), but it is a nostalgic and amusing culture-clash romp that ends up being both poignant and captivating. Anyone enamoured by Hollywood history will adore it, and the Academy may find itself thoroughly smitten by Williams’ touching turn as a tremulous wreck who can hardly summon the will to function without pills, prodding and constant ear-whispering assurance.
Check out a clip below: