Set in 1956 England, My Week with Marilyn is based on British filmmaker Colin Clark’s encounter with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), which he published as The Prince and the Showgirl and Me in 2000. Contrary to the original trailer for The Price and the Showgirl, which states that it was “[Marilyn Monroe’s] happiest role”, this film, based on Clark’s account, offers a glimpse into the mercurial and insecure woman behind the seductive and curvaceous icon that was Marilyn Monroe.
Clark, portrayed by Eddie Redmayner, is a 23-year-old trying to make it in the film industry. He lands a job as third assistant-director to Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), director and lead actor in The Prince and the Showgirl. Things heat up as egos clash during filming with Monroe constantly testing Olivier’s patience with her lack of punctuality, spontaneous excursions and erratic crises. Olivier himself is pompous and temperamental, a short fuse ignited by (among other things) Monroe’s youth and vitality on screen inadvertently forcing him to come to terms with his own age and the decline of his acting career. This is in addition to the tension created by Monroe’s failure to understand her role and Olivier’s failure to understand Monroe’s method-acting techniques.
It sounds like the plot of what could be an insightful narrative but Clark’s account is overtly biased, which makes many of the characters appear flat and inconsequential. One such character is Lucy (Emma Watson), whom Clark courts briefly. You’re not entirely sure why this is even included, besides providing an obvious contrast between Lucy (the average girl) and Monroe (the femme fatale). Perhaps it also serves to arouse the audience’s sympathy for Clark, even though he ditched Lucy to pander to a capricious Monroe.
But all is not lost. Williams, nominated for an Academy Award for her role, gives a superb performance which makes all the film’s shortcomings almost worth it. Almost, because Monroe is clearly a creation of an infatuated Clark. You are aware that Monroe is almost always on some type of pill, while she also mentions that she’s pregnant with her new husband, Arthur Miller’s (Dougray Scott), child. This is never confirmed but is rather disappointedly flitted over amid Monroe’s constant references to barely-there parents and growing up in foster homes – a shaky foundation on which to base Williams’s brilliant portrayal of Monroe’s vivacity in front of the cameras and her overwhelming insecurity behind them.
Still, Williams and Branagh (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) ensure that the film remains enjoyable with a period specific and well-designed wardrobe – though it’d have to do much more to cover the insubstantial script.