Just ask any actor who ever tried to mimic JFK’s accent or Elvis Presley’s hip action how difficult (and generally thankless) it is to play an icon of the 20th century.
But tackling Marilyn Monroe? Well, that’s a whole different ball of wax. Arguably no one in recent history is more recognizable. From her voice to her mannerisms to her physical appearance, there was only one Marilyn, and any actress who signs on to portray her will have to walk a very thin tightrope between mimicry and acting.
Fortunately Michelle Williams is phenomenal, turning in the best performance of her career. And while not quite able to make us entirely forget that we’re watching an actress play an actress, it’s easily the best portrayal of Marilyn to date.
My Week with Marilyn is based on the memoirs of then-23-year-old Colin Clark, who was hired as third assistant director on Marilyn’s The Prince and the Showgirl. The forgettable 1957 film was directed by and co-starred Laurence Olivier, and it remains a rare ‘miss’ on each’s resumé, but behind the scenes there was apparently enough drama for a, say, 100-minute movie.
As Clark (Eddie Redmayne) tells it, he and Marilyn spent a secret week together during the filming; she had taken to his boyish charm, and he… well, it was Marilyn Monroe. While sex is subtly suggested, My Week with Marilyn thankfully makes the relationship more about the connection between the two– late-night chats, a skinny dip in a country pond, confessions, and just giving her time away from being ‘Marilyn’.
First-time feature director Simon Curtis (BBC’s David Copperfield and Cranford) gives the film a true vintage feel, so much so that My Week with Marilyn looks like it could have been a late-50s film itself. The attention to detail is spot-on, and it gives the proceedings a sense of authenticity, even if the source material has come into question over the years.
Screenwriter Adrian Hodges, who’s been working in TV ever since 1997’s little-seen Metroland, wisely doesn’t attempt to make this the next The King’s Speech. My Week with Marilyn is a small production about an insignificant week in the life of every single one of its characters, save Clark (who was somehow able to publish two books about it and now has a movie to his credit).
Redmayne does an fine job as Clark, though he’s easily overshadowed not only by Williams but by Kenneth Branagh’s over-the-top Olivier and by Judi Dench’s sympathetic Sybil Thorndike. And Emma Watson (in her first post-Hermione role) is wasted in a completely forgettable turn as a second-string love interest for Clark.
But none of that truly matters. This is Michelle Williams’ show, and she dominates the festivities from the start. Always careful not to go over the top, while still by-and-large nailing Marilyn’s essence (both physically and emotionally), she gives us a performance that’s the next best thing to the lady herself.
And it also gives Williams a very good chance to yet again do something Marilyn herself never could– earn an Oscar nod.
For all movie reviews, click here.