Based on a true story about the iconic Marilyn Monroe, “My Week with Marilyn” depicts the actress at her most gorgeous and most frustrating.
It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the filming of a movie. It also provides a bit of pop-culture history as well as a glimpse into Monroe’s enigmatic, tormented spirit.
The story focuses on the real-life drama that unfolded behind the scenes when she went to England to make “The Prince and the Showgirl,” which was directed by and starred none other than Sir Laurence Olivier. It depicts Monroe, played here by Michelle Williams, as petulant, lacking confidence and stability. Kenneth Branagh gives a grand turn as Olivier, who was as smitten with Monroe as any man and yet exasperated by her as well.
Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne, “The Other Boleyn Girl”) has written several books, and two of them center on his involvement with the production of the movie as the third assistant to the director (whatever that means). Clark, who died a few years ago, can’t comment on the veracity of his memoirs, but his experiences certainly have the ring of authenticity here.
The time is 1956 and Monroe wants to star with Olivier, arguably one of the greatest actors who ever lived, in a romantic comedy so she can be considered a real actress instead of just a sexpot. But Monroe can’t remember her lines and leans heavily on acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wannamaker, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), who constantly encourages her and smooths Monroe’s ruffled feathers.
Meanwhile, Monroe’s new marriage to playwright Arthur Miller begins to unravel when she reads some unsavory words about herself in his diary. Monroe never arrives on time or prepared to the set, and she relies heavily on pharmaceuticals and alcohol to calm herself.
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Her fellow actors and the crew begin to despise her. But Clark, along with actress Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench), stands up for her and reassures her at every turn. She begins to turn to the young, intrigued Clark as a friend, and he falls madly in love with her.
Williams turns in a great performance. She doesn’t capture the essence of Marilyn — I’m not even sure that’s feasible — but she comes pretty close. It’s a look back at a challenging woman whose mystique continues to this day.