“My Week With Marilyn” is a harmless film with several incredible performances. And the cards sure were stacked against its star, Michelle Williams. Playing Marilyn Monroe is a daunting task since just about everyone has a preconceived image of the iconic figure. And it does take a few scenes for Williams to be convincing as Monroe. But when she’s on, she’s on.
The film takes place during a week of Monroe’s life when she traveled to England to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” and came head to head with actor/director Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). While shooting, Monroe struck an unusual friendship with the film’s third assistant director, Colin Clark (Eddie Radmayne).
Williams plays Monroe slightly aloof, which is the easy part, but Williams’ talent shines by providing a lingering sensation beneath the surface that Monroe is incredibly smart and manipulative, moving everyone around her like chess pieces.
Michelle Williams peels the layers off the sad movie star. We come to feel Monroe was unhappy with her fame and could easily, if in another life, settle down and have a family in the quaint English village. One fantastic scene has Monroe and Clark walking through an English estate and Marilyn is the girl next door. But when a group of tourists recognize her, she sheds herself and puts on her larger-than-life Marilyn persona. It’s a great moment and Williams really delivers.
Olivier had the reputation of being the greatest actor to have ever lived, with an ego to match. Branagh humanizes Olivier and gives one of the most subtle performances of his career. Branagh balances the actor's frustration with an actress over her head with her role in his film, with his affection and awe for the public Monroe persona.
Redmayne as Clark provides a touching performance, and through his eyes, you fall in love with Monroe over and over again.
The film’s production doesn’t always match the talent of the actors. The script, while based on true events, has some sluggish dialogue and the overall feel of the film has a grandiose made-for-television sensibility. While “My Week With Marilyn” may eventually be forgotten, Michelle Williams’ performance will not be.