Young love. First love. How many men–and women–have said over the years that Marilyn Monroe was their first love? But how many could say they had their affections returned? My Week with Marilyn is one young man’s story about his brief, chaste love affair with Marilyn Monroe during her time spent in Great Britain filming The Prince and the Showgirl. The movie, based on his diaries/memoir of the same name, documents 23 year-old Colin Clark’s entry into the movie business as Sir Laurence Olivier‘s assistant on the set of the movie. Olivier, a great stage actor, is attempting to gain conventional popularity by starring in a movie with a great movie star–Marilyn Monroe. The two actors’ professional styles clash, as Monroe’s mounting depression and dependence on alcohol and pills cause her to be tardy to the set and forgetful of her lines. As Monroe endures Olivier’s scoldings and arguments with her new husband, Arthur Miller, she seeks solace in the company of the inexperienced Colin Clark, who comes to see past the carefree exterior to the troubled soul beneath.
Michelle Williams takes on the iconic role of Marilyn Monroe, while Kenneth Branagh steps into Sir Laurence Olivier’s shoes. These two talented actors tackle the challenging task of playing two recognizable classic film stars. Stars Williams and Branagh do not look exactly like their respective counterparts, so they go for another angle by imitating Monroe’s and Olivier’s voices. And they do a spectacular job. Williams nails Monroe’s sultry bedroom murmur, and Branagh–a Shakespearean actor himself–delivers an admirable imitation of Olivier’s flawless command of the spoken English word. Their voices were what stood out to me the most; the secondary (yet just as important) aspect I noticed about the performances is that Williams and Branagh tackled Monroe’s and Olivier’s facial expressions perfectly. Williams may not encompass the sexpot icon that Monroe personified, but she captures the tension of Monroe’s sexuality mixed with insecurity, vulnerability, and a deep desire to be loved as a person, not just as a pinup.
It’s fitting that Branagh, a great contemporary Shakespearean actor, here plays Olivier, a great Shakespearean actor from the 1940s and 1950s. Branagh is such an excellent actor in his own right, he can do very little wrong. He also masters Olivier’s impeccable voice and lip movements, which is no easy feat. Although his physical appearance and facial structure resemble Olivier’s even less than Williams’ do Monroe’s, but his interpretation overcomes any challenges there.
But this is not a film that rests solely on imitation. Yes, Williams and Branagh are excellent in their respective roles, but the reason to watch this movie is to see a sweet, if somewhat censored side of Monroe’s vulnerability. Williams’ performance is not raw, but it is honest and endearing. One of the most poignant moments of the film is when Marilyn and Colin take an impromptu tour of Windsor Castle. When the staff realizes she is on the grounds, a handful of them assemble at the foot of the staircase, in awe of the Hollywood starlet who has appeared without an entourage. In a whispered aside to Colin, she whispers, “Shall I be her?” As the starstruck staff mimic an adoring crowd, Marilyn reverts to her bombshell movie star role, posing, laughing, and blowing kisses as the camera shutters fly. It’s a sweet moment that comes at a point in the film when she has somewhat opened herself up to Colin and allowed him to see the girl behind the movie star, the girl who wanted so desperately to be loved as a person and not just as a sex symbol.
Williams and Branagh both garnered Academy Award nominations for their admirable portrayals of these two screen legends. The movie is not overly dramatic or expose any dark Hollywood secrets, except for Clark’s revelation of his time with Monroe. Clark went on to become a successful filmmaker in his own right, but this is a tale of first love–nostalgic, bittersweet, and endearing, as first love so often is.
My rating: Good (3 of 4 stars)
Quick facts: My Week with Marilyn, 2011; R rating with a running time of 99 minutes. Directed by Simon Curtis; The Weinstein Company and BBC Films.
Additional movie information: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1655420/