Breathy, flirty, curvy, damaged; whatever you feel about Marilyn Monroe the one thing that is undeniable about her is she was (and still is) an icon of the big screen; a film star of old school proportions.
So it is a tough call for anyone to try and recreate her magic up on screen but Michelle Williams does a brilliant job here, catching her brittle, fragile persona to perfection even if she cannot match her curves.
It is 1956 and Marilyn (Williams) is in England to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Larry Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in the hope their combined fame, stage and screen craft will produce a comedic masterpiece. But there is a problem; Olivier expects his actors to know their lines, turn up on time and treat the rest of the cast with respect. However, Hollywood star Marilyn needs constant (and that means 24 hour) TLC; her retinue of flunkies and hangers on massaging her ego, feeding her pills and literally walking her onto set each day in the hope she will turn on the magic, while the other actors are forced to twiddle their thumbs until she turns up.
As Olivier gets more and more frustrated he turns into a patronising bully further traumatising Marilyn, and so Olivier’s young assistant Colin (Eddie Redmayne) is called upon to act as a buffer between the two. Before long, the only way Marilyn will communicate is through Colin and so begins a sweet, if rather one-sided crush between the naive Englishman and the emotionally needy and manipulative star.
Director Simon Curtis has assembled an incredibly starry cast of his own to flesh out all the stars of yesteryear (Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Dougray Scott as Marilyn’s husband Arthur Miller), but it is Williams and Branagh who dominate the screen; Williams as the flighty, psychologically frail woman addicted to attention and prescription drugs, Branagh as the almost grotesque but brilliantly funny thespian (and believe me there is a lot more humour in this movie than you’d expect – his line comparing Marilyn’s acting skill to a certain nocturnal animal is so masterfully delivered it brings guffaws of laughter from the audience). There’s nothing wrong with Redmayne’s performance, it’s just his presence is almost ousted from the screen by two heavyweights who mesmerise, appal and entertain in good measure.
People will say My Week with Marilyn is this year’s The King’s Speech, but its appeal is much broader than that. This film confirms Williams as an actress of real versatility while one hopes this signals the beginning of a golden period in Branagh’s already illustrious career.