My Week with Marilyn is one of the most innocent of love stories to hit the movie screens in recent years, and one of the most satisfying.
It also a rather astute tale of filmmaking, specifically the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957, an adaptation of a Terrence Rattigan stage comedy. The movie starred Marilyn Monroe at the height of her fame and Sir Laurence Olivier, who at age 50, was the world's most acclaimed Shakespearean actor -- or should we say, "aging Shakespearian actor and former matinee idol." He was also its director.
Not surprisingly, the idea of an Olivier/Monroe product was highly anticipated by filmgoers at the time, who could not conceptualize such a pairing. In fact, Philip K. Sheuer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "It is hard to imagine movie fans wider apart than the followers of Miss Marilyn Monroe and of Sir Laurence Olivier, who are ordinarily separated by more than an ocean."
The plot is a rather simple one: In London, the Grandduke Charles, the prince-regent of Carpatha, finds himself attracted to a seemingly lowbrow American actress and summons her to his embassy for what he intends to be a single night of seamless merrymaking. The designated damsel, Elsie Marina, believes she's been invited to a respectable royal party. Each gets less than what he/she first expected -- and also more. Additionally, there's a royal subplot, but if you are really curious, watch the film. It's up there for free on YouTube.
A backstage peek at the making of that film is what My Week with Marilyn purports to be, and it succeeds grandly. Adrian Hodges's delicious screenplay is based upon a memoir by the upper-class Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who, at age 23, wound up as a sort of a gopher on the set, having just graduated from college. Thanks to his youthful moxie that refused to believe a dream could not come true, he found himself being an intermediary between the warring Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Monroe (Michelle Williams), who practiced very different work ethics. Olivier worked and, well, Monroe wanted to work, but often found herself unable to do so thanks to a mixture of drugs, alcohol, an off-kilter marriage to playwright Arthur Miller, a miscarriage, unbridled insecurity, and her love/hate relationship with fame.
Colin soon found himself the love toy of Monroe, and even though he suspected such a relationship would go nowhere, he was too inexperienced with life to guard his heart.
With astute direction by the Brit Simon Curtis and bravura performances by all of the leads and the superlative supporting cast (which includes the like of Dame Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Derek Jacobi, Julia Ormond and Zoe Wanamaker), My Week is readymade for the awards season. Williams, especially, is due every Best Actress nomination that is being proffered this year. She doesn't mime Monroe, she embodies Monroe: all of her frailties, her naiveties, her veiled strengths, and her flirtations. She is never less than breathlessly breathtaking. If Williams weren't already a star, she'd now become one. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Gay Identity in Literature" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).