By William Wolf


Michelle Williams is a brave actress daring to play Marilyn Monroe. How will the public accept her given the familiarity with Monroe herself as the icon she has become? And, true to inevitable skepticism at the outset of “My Week With Marilyn,” one marks the difference between how Williams looks in comparison with Monroe. But it doesn’t take long for Williams, excellent actress that she is, to eradicate the need to compare, and darned if she doesn’t become powerfully convincing as the enchanting but difficult Monroe. By the time she is through Williams has not only given one of the year’s most impressive performances but has been especially endearing and poignant in providing a deeply human portrait.

The film, directed by Simon Curtis, stems from Colin Clark’s book, “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me” and his follow-up memoir, “My Week With Marilyn,” in which he reminisces about his stint at the age of 23 as a production assistant during the filming of “The Prince and the Showgirl” in England in the summer of 1956. Clark, played engagingly by the excellent Eddie Redmayne, had the good fortune to be close to Monroe during a week in which, as he tells it, she relied very much on him to help her through the emotions and stress she felt during the filming. The closeness that developed remained with him as a significant event in his life, now dramatized in a screenplay by Adrian Hodges.

As is well known, Monroe was a bundle of nerves and could drive everyone crazy with her lateness and anxieties. William conveys that part of Monroe, but also her outward beauty and sexiness and her ability as an actress when she overcomes her self-doubts. There are lovely scenes between her and Redmayne, who does a major job in making the film work so well. In the process we get an intimate view of the behind the scenes turmoil that occurred during the filming.

Other strong performances contribute importantly, foremost that of Kenneth Branagh as Siir Laurence Olivier—a spot-on portrayal of the great actor, who is shown repeatedly exasperated at Monroe’s perpetual tardiness and her taking direction from her mentor Paula Strasberg, sternly and arrogantly played by Zoë Wanamaker. Judi Dench is outstanding as actress Dame Sybil Thorndike and Julia Ormand does a good job as Vivian Leigh. The impressive cast also includes Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones and Simon Russell Beale.

The atmosphere on and off the set is captured nicely, with the costuming helping to pick up the right look. But essentially it is Williams’ performance that dominates the film and makes it so enjoyable. During a press conference following a screening at the New York Film Festival Williams made a key observation that explained her approach to trying to be the star.

“Marilyn Monroe was a character she played,” William said, pointing out that the Hollywood image of Marilyn was an artifice, but an artifice that became so real. Williams manages to convey both that so-called artifice and the fragile woman who was living the role of the created movie persona. A Weinstein Company release.


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