At first glance, My Week with Marilyn might appear to be a salacious behind-the-scenes look at the making of a film that had its share of off camera drama. However, a closer look at the movie reveals an incomplete, yet captivating character study of Marilyn Monroe The story takes place in 1956, when the icon-in-the-making traveled to England to make The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier. While Marilyn (Michelle Williams) was considered the world’s biggest movie star, she was desperately trying to be seen as a serious actress, Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), widely viewed as one of the best actors in the world, hoped that co-starring along Marilyn would make him a bona fide movie star.
The screenplay, by Adrian Hodges is based on two books written by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who was the “third assistant to the director” on The Prince and the Showgirl. Just twenty-three at the time, this is Clark’s recounting of his chaste love affair with the troubled star as Olivier, Clark and the rest of the crew tried to complete The Prince and the Showgirl. Though the film is based on Clark’s recollections, there’s no denying that that Marilyn’s larger-than-life persona is the star of this tale.
In 1956, the pairing of a Hollywood superstar and British acting royalty seemed like a can’t miss proposition. Unfortunately, Marilyn’s off screen issues, and inconsistencies in front of the camera, led to a shooting nightmare for nearly everyone involved. Recently married for the third time to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) Marilyn has brought him to Europe for support, but he already seems tired of the partnership. Oliver has little patience for her frequent, lateness, no-shows and line-flubs; his constant yelling has Marilyn constantly on edge. In the eye of a personal and professional storm, Marilyn had three sources of support: acting teacher and companion Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) who feeds her confidence; fellow actress Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench), who sympathizes with her plight; and Colin Clark who offers nonjudgmental support. For a week, after Miller leaves Europe to spend time with his children, Colin and Marilyn become inseparable. Naturally, their ‘friendship’ sparks rumors on set, interfering with Colin’s job and his budding romance with costume girl Lucy (Emma Watson).
While the story itself is a bit slim in places, the performances are full and notable. From the moment she appears on screen, Michelle Williams embodies the fragile icon. Hers is not an imitation as much as an embodiment. She has the look, mannerisms, and voice down pat; at times I found myself forgetting I was watching a performance. There is irony in the casting of Kenneth Branagh as Olivier. For much of his professional career he has been compared to Olivier, so it’s fitting that he plays him. Branagh’s performance doesn’t particularly stand out. Playing third fiddle to Williams and Redmayne, he never really develops the character. Instead, it often looks like he’s aping parts of Olivier’s performances. It’s not a bad performance—Olivier comes across as a skirt chasing perfectionist—but it feels like there should have been more character development. Eddie Redmayne, probably the least known member of the cast, holds his own. His portrayal of Colin Clark is calm and even, a stark contrast to Marilyn.
Director Simon Curtis, making his motion picture debut, has made a film that should entice anyone interested in films or tabloid stories of the 1950s. This is one of the best character studies of Marilyn Monroe in recent years. The story clues us in to the behavior that would lead to her death in 1962. Beyond that, My Week with Marilyn provides an interesting glimpse at how movies were made in the 1950s.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is an accurate one. While it doesn’t offer pinpoint sharpness—there’s noticeable softness in places—the clarity is still rather stunning. Detail is wonderful, exhibiting strong textures and a vivid color palette. There’s some light banding in a handful of shots, but aside from that, this is an issue free transfer.
The included DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack fits the film well. While the opening title sequence is a bit hushed, once you get beyond that atmospherics are solid. Music throughout plays with fine clarity throughout, and the center focused dialogue is crystal clear. Sound effects are also given a nice surround presence. All-in-all, a fine mix.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following special features are available along with a DVD copy of the film:
- Audio Commentary: Director Simon Curtis delivers an informative, if haulting, commentary, discussing casting, performances, the picture’s plot and themes, the filming, and more.
- The Untold Story of an American Icon (SD, 19:07): Cast and crew discuss the real Marilyn Monroe and this film’s plot, in particular the romance between Monroe and Clark and the conflict between Monroe and Olivier.
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