My Week with Marilyn
A fun and tender tale of infatuation backed by two outstanding Oscar-nominated performances.
February 19, 2012
In 1956 Marilyn Monroe was the biggest movie star in the world, secretly longing for recognition as an accomplished actress. Across the Pacific, Sir Laurence Olivier was acting royalty harbouring dreams of superstardom (and, it would seem, of bedding Monroe). Believing he could achieve both in one fell swoop, he contrived to fly Monroe to London and shoot The Prince and the Showgirl, a trifling farce about an American showgirl falling for a European royal. Life, Olivier undoubtedly hoped, would quickly and obligingly imitate art.
My Week with Marilyn traces the course of that ill-fated production through the eyes of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year-old English lad who, courtesy of powerful family connections, secured himself a job as third assistant director to Olivier on the Pinewood set. It was a gopher-type role (go for this, go for that) that not only afforded Clark a fly on the wall perspective but also put him in regular and direct contact with the film's leading lady. Clark kept a diary of his experiences and in 1995 published The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, a supposed 'tell-all' account upon which this film is based. While the veracity of his narrative remains questionable, it ultimately matters very little because My Week with Marilyn is not a plot-driven story at all; it's instead an utterly delightful tale of infatuation and a showcase for two of the year's best performances.
Kenneth Branagh stars as Olivier, and it's hard to imagine anyone more tailor-made for the role. He gloriously captures every last whit of the man's imperious conceit and diva-like tantrums so Shakespearean in their delivery they may as well have been in iambic pentameter. It's such a commanding performance that it almost outshines the film's other star, Michelle Williams, especially given the subtlety with which she handles her subject. Williams' Monroe is not the sex bomb we're familiar with; she's more introverted, insecure and childlike yet still somehow every bit as beguiling.
Seen through Clark's eyes it's entirely understandable how and why a cavalcade of men, both famous and unknown, blindly strove towards glorious despair despite all the warning signs of heartache. Monroe's gift (and perhaps curse) was how effortlessly she captured the imagination of all around her, fostering irrepressible yearning and inducing the very malfunction of reason. My Week with Marilyn is a light and tender tale of one such diversion, and to hear Clark's account is to believe without reserve how one is always 'better to have loved and lost'.