Based on the recent memoirs of a filmmaker and producer, My Week With Marilyn follows a budding romance surrounding one of the most difficult film shoots of Marilyn Monroe's career.
Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) has always wanted to be involved in movies, and he is determined enough to stick around the executive studios until he is hired as a 3rd assistant director to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The world-renowned stage actor is preparing to direct and star in a movie opposite the beautiful Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), but has little idea of what he is in for. Marilyn proves deeply insecure, temperamental, is frequently late to the sound stage, and fusses at the drop of a hat. Laurence is at the end of his rope, but Colin has more compassion for the American diva, who is newly married and in spite of her global success, deeply unhappy.
Circumstances throw them together and a friendship sparks that threatens Colin's attempts to woo one of the costume girls (Emma Watson). But as the shoot continues, he finds in Marilyn a young woman in a gilded cage, longing for freedom but without the courage to reach out and take it with both hands.
This film relies on impersonations of actors that everyone is familiar with -- from Laurence Olivier to his wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormand). It seems strange to me then that none of the actors involved bear any resemblance to their cinematic counterparts, much less attempt in any way to impersonate them. I've heard glowing reviews of everyone involved and must admit that the hype is more impressive than the performances. They are good, yes, but there was never a moment when I was convinced Branagh was Olivier, or Ormand was Leigh, or Williams was Marilyn. None of them even bothered to alter their voice that much, which meant that element of the film was sorely missing. That aside, it is quite a wonderful period piece, full of gorgeous costumes and a cast that doesn't go ten minutes without introducing someone well known to costume drama fans. From Derek Jacobi to Michael Kitchen to members of the Downton Abbey cast, it is not short on talent.
What the movie meant to convey and what it wound up revealing are two different things, but I often found myself frustrated with Marilyn and I'm not sure that is the emotion I was meant to have. The musical score is lovely and the script is fluid, but relies a bit too much on the occasional f-words to show much class. There are about a dozen in all, along with a half dozen uses of Jesus' name in some form. There's no sexual content, although Marilyn and Colin do come very close to having an affair -- they exchange kisses, sleep together on the same bed, and skinny dip together. The camera three times lingers on Marilyn's nude backside. Colin tries to undo the blouse of a girl he likes, only to have her stop him. References are made to affairs and indiscreet romances. Vivien fears that Laurence intends to "seduce" Marilyn. But at the heart of the story is a woman who faces severe panic attacks and insecurities, whose moods fluctuate rapidly and frighten the people who love her, who relies on pills to keep her calm. The thematic elements, as a result, can sometimes be quite intense.
Even though the lack of impersonations was disappointing for me, I quite enjoyed this film, not so much as its exploration of a certain week in time as for the heart that the actors put into it. Maybe they aren't carbon copies of their famous counterparts, but for the most part, they are trying their best. It's not perfect, but it is memorable and for that reason alone, I may return to it from time to time.