My Week With Marilyn is a surprisingly enjoyable account of the tensions that arose between two screen legends during the shooting of The Prince And The Showgirl at Pinewood studios in 1956. Director and staunch non-sufferer of fools Sir Laurence Olivier knew the publicity value of securing the famously erratic Marilyn Monroe for his project but was disastrously ill-equipped to deal with her insecurities once filming had started, and his increasingly visible impatience with her lateness and reliance on an ever-present method acting coach only served to make a bad situation worse. All this was observed by wide-eyed and starstruck young third director (or glorified dogsbody) Colin Clark, and it eventually fell to him to earn the delicate star’s sympathy and give her the necessary confidence to complete the film. Clark (who is incidentally the son of the famous art historian Kenneth and the brother of the wildcard Conservative MP Alan) later wrote up his experience as a book, from which this new film is drawn.
A project like this is going to live or die according to the strength of its script and the canniness of its casting and fortunately both elements are spot on here. This is a breezy, brisk movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to generate some pathos for the poor beleaguered Marilyn and manages to avoid painting the potentially bland and reactive Clark as a complete non-entity. There’s plenty of fun to be had with the broad-brush but believable depictions of a glamour-starved 1950s England and the inevitable culture clashes that occur when a clutch of sophisticated New Yorkers arrive in the buttoned-down outskirts of London. Michelle Williams does the impossible and manages to pull off a credible impersonation of Marilyn that doesn’t devolve into a collection of mannerisms but the stand-out performance is Kenneth Branagh, who captures Olivier’s fragile and prissy persona to perfection and throws in some of Sir Larry’s signature bizarre pronunciations and ill-timed Shakespeare references just to cap it off. Eddie Redmayne is fine in the unshowy central role, though you get the feeling any reasonably good looking young actor would probably have been OK, and Zoe Wanamaker is a bit of a revelation as the star’s waspish drama coach, who’s impervious to Olivier’s intimidatory tactics. This is by no means an important or groundbreaking bio-pic but it’s as straightforwardly entertaining as anything I’ve seen all year.