It’s 1956 and the world cannot seem to get enough of a certain voluptuous, platinum blonde singer-actress. With one smile, one wink, one laugh, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) can charm virtually anyone.
Desperately wanting to be seen as more than a bombshell, Monroe travels to England to star alongside the great British thespian, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh,) in the film, The Prince and the Showgirl. She arrives with her newly-wed third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), amid much fanfare, with crowds jostling to get a glimpse of the most famous woman in the world.
But, the cracks quickly begin to show. The Hollywood star struggles to perform, constantly showing up late for filming, unable to remember her lines and, between Olivier’s ridicule of her “method acting” approach and Miller’s decision to return to New York, she has several emotional meltdowns.
The observer to all this is the naive Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year old Oxford graduate who uses his family connections to get a job as an assistant on the set, and the film, My Week with Marilyn, is based on his memoirs from this period. Clark, whose puppy-eyes follow Monroe everywhere, pays no heed to advice that the actress tends to reel in wide-eyed lovers on every film set, just to spit them out again. He becomes the Hollywood superstar’s “go-to-guy”. He seems to be one of few who can calm the actress during emotional outbursts, coax her out of her room onto the set and convince her of her self-worth long enough for a line to be filmed.
What follows can hardly be called an intense love affair, but rather a romantic entanglement which is mostly wild fantasy on the part of Clark and a sideline flirtation for Monroe. Nevertheless, Clark is allowed a brief glance at the woman behind the mask, at the childlike, confused Norma Jean, who has never quite been able to shake off her insecurities. Director Simon Curtis depicts Monroe as being very aware of her two personas. “Shall I be her?” she asks Clark during an outing, before she starts strutting and blowing kisses to a group of adoring fans.
The film is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of Monroe’s character or life. In fact, it offers only glimpses of these but this does not mean the movie is a trifle. It simply means it’s charming rather than intensely emotional.
The film explores Monroe’s vulnerabilities as witnessed by Clark. She desperately wants to be taken seriously when everyone sees her simply as a sex goddess. Referring to the tension between Olivier and Monroe, Clark says “He is a great actor who wants to be a film star. She is a film star who wants to be a great actor.” But, a great price must be paid for fame. Monroe, for all her beauty and success, is portrayed as a little girl in a woman’s body, who uses alcohol and prescription drugs to drown out her inability to cope with a life-long rejection by men.
Williams finds herself in the role of her lifetime (thus far, at least). She isn’t exactly a dead ringer for Monroe, but this is irrelevant. She manages to produce an affably husky, breathy voice reminiscent of Monroe’s, but, it is in William’s body language that she manages to captivate. The doe-eyed glance from beneath long lashes, the pouty red mouth, and the child-like giggles: Williams captures these flawlessly and it is this which makes her a strong contender for the Best Actress Oscar. She does a fine job at showing Monroe’s struggle with self-esteem, her desire to matter and to be loved.
In one of her most famous songs, Monroe sings, “I want to be loved by you, just you, nobody else but you.” But, the love of one was never enough; what Marilyn really wanted was for everyone to love her. She craved acceptance and needed constant affirmation, making her an all-consuming individual. But, she was awe-inspiring at the same time. As Olivier watches the rushes of “The Prince and the Showgirl” he cannot tear his eyes away from the screen and later, in real-life, he calls her performance “wonderful.”
Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench
Rating: 4 out of 5