My Week with Marilyn | The Woman Behind the Bombshell

Michelle Williams earned a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn.

When Sir Laurence Olivier directed and starred in The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956, he expected his costar Marilyn Monroe to portray her signature showgirl like a subordinate actress. But his prospect was ill-timed. Monroe had long since tired of her clichéd character and she enrolled in the Actors Studio in New York to study Method acting, hoping to become a respected actress in dramatic roles. So in London’s Pinewood Studios, Sir Laurence is taken aback when Monroe, prompted by her acting coach, questions the motivation of her showgirl character and suggests some dialog edits. To make matters worse, she always arrives late and often forgets her lines. With its co-stars in perpetual collision, The Prince and the Showgirl becomes the project from Hell.

   And why should we care? As the chronicles of filmmaking confirm, the power of storytelling lies more in its delivery than its content. And My Week with Marilyn delivers the extraordinary. This entertaining narrative is drawn from the 1956 journal of 23-year-old Colin Clark, who worked as Olivier’s lowly third assistant during filming. Clark reveals a brief but intimate relationship between himself—a young studio gofer, and Marilyn Monroe—the troubled megastar who claims Clark as her companion and confidante.

The top-notch cast includes Kenneth Branagh as Olivier and Eddie Redmayne as the bold but wide-eyed Colin Clark, and Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe with astounding nuance. Impersonation is one of acting’s greatest challenges and both Branagh and Williams earn their 2012 Oscar nods. Branagh, who brilliantly portrayed Woody Allen in the 1998 film Celebrity, carries all the force and fire of Olivier, the acclaimed classic actor. Williams captures the softness, power, and vulnerability of Monroe, along with her super sexuality that drives men wild. In a scene at a boy’s school, she strikes a series of poses that demonstrate how Marilyn could switch on the magic. It’s a commanding moment for Williams, who channels the amazing Monroe persona as well as the insecure woman beneath the facade.

Colin Clark, who died in 2002, claims he withheld the details of these nine days in deference to Monroe until after her passing. It’s worth noting that there are no witness accounts to verify Clark’s narrative. But whether his story is fact, fiction, or hybrid, My Week with Marilyn is as well executed as it is revealing. We witness the filmmaking process propelled by the impossible egos that move it forward as much as they slow it down. And we witness the movie star’s perpetual dilemma, the search for trusted friends who will love them not for their public persona but for who they really are.   A