If you want to watch a film about style and screen icon Marilyn Monroe’s tumultuous stint on the set of the 1957 movie, The Prince and the Showgirl, then My Week with Marilyn is the film for you. Unlike other biopics where you expect the plot to follow most of the person’s life, or at least, the juicy bits of their life, this film essentially does what it says on the film can – it gives you a week of Marilyn’s life, and that’s about it. Which is fine, because otherwise they would have just called it My Month with Marilyn, or My Year with Marilyn. Obviously.
Based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, Eddie Redmayne takes on the role of the 23-year-old from Oxford, who dreams of being a hot-shot movie maker (it’s so Hollywood it’s almost got jazz hands), and is finally given his big break when director/producer Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) gives him a role as a lowly 3rd assistant on his production, entitled, yes you’ve guessed it, The Prince and the Showgirl – the movie which famously united Monroe with Olivier while she was on honeymoon with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).
Pampered and overly-coddled by her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), a fragile but spirited (also known as high-maintenance) Marilyn (Michelle Williams), travels to prim and proper 50’s England to shoot the film, where she immediately starts to call the shots on the production.
With a cast and crew at their wits end with her overpowering nature, a smitten Olivier struggling to direct her as she turns up late and fluffs her lines, and his wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) more than aware of his slight obsession with the sex symbol – some say that Leigh deliberately tried to steal attention and headlines from Monroe by announcing that she was pregnant by Olivier during filming – the director eventually puts Colin in charge of his demanding starlet to win her trust and to stop her from being such a diva. Celebrity photographer, Milton H. Greene (Dominic Cooper) – part of Marilyn’s entourage – also issues Olivier with a warning, “Accept Marilyn on her terms and you will be okay. Try to change her and she’ll drive you crazy.”
Colin soon falls under Marilyn’s spell (this happens to my assistants all the time), and after ditching a fledgling crush on wardrobe mistress Lucy, played by Emma Watson (well you would for Marilyn wouldn’t you?) – and husband Miller leaving England, Colin finds himself introducing the star to the simple pleasures of British life, away from the hangers-on, pills and false flattery of Hollywood-land.
Williams is brilliant in her portrayal of the iconic bombshell, from her smouldering performance of the limelight-grabbing star, to the troubled soul, full of emotional turmoil and a desperate need to be loved. This really is a beautiful movie which captures the essence of another era, not just through storytelling, but through the eclectic mix of timeless vintage outfits that reflect Monroe’s personal style, created by costume designer Jill Taylor. Sourced from vintage fairs and shops, auction houses and markets – the film features Williams in 50’s-inspired outfits, but instead of the usual sharp-shoulder lines and fitted waists synonymous with that era, in real life Monroe preferred a more casual and sporty approach. As Taylor told Vogue: “She’s known for her show-stopping glamorous gowns, but after studying hundreds of books and photographs we found out that actually Marilyn dressed for comfort. She was ahead of her time in terms of style. The Fifties look was very much based on structuring and tailoring, but she often chose quite American sporty clothes to wear. She was the Calvin Klein girl before there even was Calvin Klein”.
My Week with Marilyn is enchanting, it’s got pretty clothes and people to look at, it’s escapism on the big screen (because we’ve all dreamed of being Marilyn at some point haven’t we girls?), and it’s also achingly heartbreaking, but then I do cry easily during films.
I don’t normally give movies a star rating, but if I had to choose for this one, I would give it a boop-boop-a-doop out of 10.