There are some flaws in the film My Week With Marilyn. Chances are you won't notice. The astonishing experience of watching Michelle Williams transform herself into Marilyn Monroe tends to block out everything else going on.
My Week With Marilyn is based on the books written by Colin Clark -- The Prince, The Showgirl and Me, and My Week With Marilyn. At age 23, Clark was hired as a gopher on The Prince and the Showgirl, a 1956 comedy directed by, and starring, Sir Laurence Olivier. Olivier's co-star was Marilyn Monroe, specifically hired not only for her own box office clout but also for her potential to reboot Olivier's film popularity.
Clark's memoirs offered an inside look at the film, the industry itself and the actors; he also details a week he spent with Marilyn Monroe when the two played hooky from the troubled production.
My Week With Marilyn opens with Clark (Eddie Redmayne) explaining how desperately he wants to be part of the movie industry. England in the '50s is just beginning to emerge from under the shadow of the Second World War, and this young Oxford grad's enthusiasm for film is a sign of impending social change.
By simply showing up and being useful, day after day, Clark finally gets a job on The Prince and the Showgirl; it doesn't hurt that his aristo parents are friends of the director, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), and his wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond).
The big news on The Prince and the Showgirl is the arrival in England of Marilyn Monroe, a superstar of the sort minted before the Internet. The normally staid British are quiet hysterical by her visit. Monroe arrives with her newest husband, playwright Arthur Miller, and it's all very shiny, but things go awry quickly. She quarrels with Miller, and he stomps back to the U.S.
At work, Monroe is always late on set, incapable of remembering her lines and so deep into Method that she can barely function without first checking in with her artistic mentor, Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker). Olivier is furious at all times.
Insecure and out of her element, Monroe warms to Clark, eventually spending a week with him as they explore the countryside and various British landmarks. He is warned by all and sundry not to get too close to Marilyn Monroe, but he pays no attention.
My Week With Marilyn is a bittersweet story about the actress and one of the umpteen men who fell in love with her. It's also a social document about filmmaking and about England after the war, and it's worth seeing on all fronts. Every role in the film is played by someone impressive, starting with Dame Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike; you'll see Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson in there, too.
As Monroe, Williams holds her own in this crowd. She shows the actress' vulnerability as well as her immense talent and, sadly, shows the person trapped inside the Monroe myth. It would be surprising if Williams is not nominated for an Academy Award for this performance.
Then again, it would also be surprising if Williams is not nominated for her performance in Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz, a film that apparently terrifies men, which is due for release this winter. One way or the other, Williams should start preparing her speech.
This film is rated 14A