In Home Viewings: "My Week with Marilyn"

In 1957, recent University graduate Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) was brought onto the production of the film The Prince and the Showgirl as a third assistant director. The film was quite a big deal as England as it would be directed by Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who would also star opposite Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). But while London is in uproar over Monroe’s arrival, it is no match to the upheaval which takes place on the set. Strung out and insecure, Monroe clashes greatly with Olivier, who has no patience for doing things in any way other than the classical methods. With the conflict deepening daily, Monroe finds an unlikely ally in Clark, who she establishes a connection with unlike anyone else on set. Soon the pair begins spending every spare moment together, engaging in a love affair that both know will end badly but neither can wiggle out of.

My Week with Marilyn is the very definition of a film that is flush with stunning performances but low on meaningful content. Everything, and I mean literally EVERYTHING, that is good about this film comes down to the various performances of the leads. And make no mistake, these are outstanding actors giving truly spectacular portrayals. Redmayne is only just becoming a known name on these shores but his blend of charm and bashful awkwardness lends strength to a character that doesn’t have much of that on paper. It isn’t a weighty role but Redmayne seems entirely comfortable and gives it a bit of depth. Branagh, as expected, goes all out in portraying the man who was his real life mentor and delivers on showing Olivier as the complicated man he truly was. And then of course there is Williams who both embraces and battles an absurdly complex personality. Williams has built a hardy reputation for tackling and toppling difficult roles (who would have guessed that after her stint on Dawson’s Creek?) but this one takes the cake. Bringing reality to such a well-known and loved person is a near-impossible task but Williams does so with brilliance, creating an undeniably sympathetic character that transfixes the audience more often than not. Williams is beautiful, haunting, and fully deserving of every award nomination she received for this role.

Unfortunately, the film itself does not live up to the standard set by Williams, Branagh, and Redmayne. In fact, it is completely and totally overshadowed by its stars to the point of becoming thoroughly insignificant by its own accord. I’m all for a good character study but even in the most character-intensive film, there has to be some semblance of a worthwhile storyline and My Week with Marilynjust doesn’t have that. I can’t see a way that any of the narrative would matter to anyone who wasn’t on set during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. That is probably more of an indictment of Colin Clark’s memoirs on which this film is based, as by all accounts Clark tried to wring every ounce of fame out of his time with Monroe. That screams through every shot of this film, prompting me to question why it was made in the first place when it had so little to draw one. One could argue that My Week with Marilyn is worth seeing based solely on the value of its exquisite lead performance but for me, it’s an awful lot to slog through, even if it is one of the better portrayals you’re likely to see.