In the early summer of 1956, 23-year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) came down from Oxford determined to make his way in the film business. He worked as a lowly assistant (third assistant director) on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, the film that famously united Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine), who was also on honeymoon with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). Nearly 40 years on, his diary account The Prince, the Showgirl and Me was published, but one week was missing and this this missing week was published some years later as MY WEEK WITH MARILYN.
Adrian Hodges’ screenplay of MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is based on two memoirs of Marilyn Monroe by Colin Clark, “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me,” and a subsequent confessional volume that gives the film its eponymous title. The 23-year-old Clark was third asst. director to Laurence Olivier during production on the 1957 feature, The Prince and the Showgirl, a forgettable comedy adapted by Terence Rattigan from his play, The Sleeping Prince.
Michelle Williams goes beyond mere impersonation of Marilyn Monroe. Playing both the damaged, insecure woman and the sensual celebrity construct, as well as the role with which Marilyn Monroe was struggling during a particularly difficult shoot, this film gets us on intimate terms with one of Hollywood’s most enduring and tragic icons. If much of what surrounds her in Simon Curtis’ biographical drama is less nuanced, her work alone keeps the movie entertaining. Monroe’s co-star and director on the picture, Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) had acquired his professional discipline and classical training slogging away in repertory theater companies. As portrayed here, he shows little patience for Monroe’s chronic tardiness, her nervous jitters and her infuriating devotion to Method acting. Things get off to a bad start when she keeps a cast that includes the illustrious Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) standing around in full costume for two hours on the first day of shooting. Recently married to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and anxious to be taken seriously as an actress, Marilyn has her own on-set, one-woman pep squad to run interference in acting coach Paula Strasberg (ZoëWanamaker), whose maternal instincts appear not without self-interest.
Determined not to look out of place in such company, Michelle Williams immersed herself for six months in all things Marilyn: “I watched all her films countless times, read her poems and letters, read a stack of books and viewed so many clips of her on YouTube.” It was all an attempt to get inside the head of the woman she had admired for so long and wanted to better understand so she could convincingly play her on screen.
“I had always been more interested in the private Marilyn, and the unguarded Marilyn. Even as a young girl, my primary concern wasn’t with this larger than life personality smiling back from the wall but with what was going on underneath.” For the physical transformation, she relied on eating more to fatten up her face, padding to fill out her hips and practising the wiggle for visitors to her New York home. “The wiggle always made my postman smile,” she recalls. Rather than resorting to body doubles and miming, Michelle does all her own singing and dancing in the movie, becoming musical Marilyn with the help of leading Broadway choreographers and a singing coach. It all paid off to the huge benefit of the movie, which is based on the memoirs of the late Colin Clark, brother of the Tory politician and diarist Alan Clark.
Cast: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Philip Jackson, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Michael Kitchen, Julia Ormond, Simon Russell Beale, Dougray Scott, ZoëWanamaker, Geraldine Somerville
Director: Simon Curtis
Screenwriter: Adrian Hodges, based on the diaries by Colin Clark
Producers: David Parfitt, Harvey Weinstein
Executive producers: Jamie Laurenson, Simon Curtis, Ivan Mactaggart, Christine Langan, Bob Weinstein, Kelly Carmichael
Director of photography: Ben Smithard
Production designer: Donal Woods
Music: Conrad Pope, Alexandre Desplat
Costume designer: Jill Taylor
Editor: Adam Recht
R rating, 101 minutes