Most people remember her as the blonde bombshell from Billy Wilder‘s comedic masterpiece Some Like It Hot, while others will always remember her standing over a grate with her skirt being blown upwards in The Seven Year Itch. Either way, it’s impossible to forget the gorgeous Marilyn Monroe and her beautiful voice. Then and now, she was seen as one of the most important icons of her generation, capturing the attention of everyone, including a young man who documented his experiences with her in his memoirs, which are the basis for this film, My Week With Marilyn.
In 1956, at the height of her popularity, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) flew to England to make a film with the great Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) called The Prince and the Showgirl. At the same time, a young man by the name of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) was looking to get into the film business and just happened to land a job as the Third Assistant Director on the project. At first, Colin becomes attracted to a young wardrobe assistant, Lucy (Emma Watson), but then quickly becomes infatuated with Marilyn.
Production on the film is not going particularly well. Marilyn is constantly late to the set and takes quite a long time to get even a single scene done. This tries the patience of everyone, including Olivier, who is directing the picture. Marilyn eventually becomes dependent on Colin’s presence and support as she tries to make it through the demanding process of making a film in a country that she’s unfamiliar with, leading to a relationship that becomes much closer than Colin expected.
My Week With Marilyn is not only an interesting look at the relationship between this young man and the most famous woman of the period, but also an intriguing look behind the scenes of the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. It’s a film I’ve never seen, but the pairing of Olivier and Monroe certainly sounds like a bizarre one. Monroe is mainly known for her comedic roles while Olivier was known as a great actor of the stage and screen in his many Shakespearean roles.
As the film tells us, the role that Monroe is playing in the film was originally created on stage by Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), but being too old to play the role on film, Monroe was brought in. Her technique was seen as great by some while trying the patience of others. At one point, Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) calls Monroe a great actress, telling her that she is the only one who truly knows how to act for the camera.
Meanwhile, Olivier is extremely frustrated at the constant delays Monroe causes. She shows up the set hours late, causing everyone to wait, and then when they finally get going, she doesn’t know her lines properly. Then there’s also the constant presence of her acting coach, Paula (Zoe Wanamaker), who immediately starts trying to direct Marilyn herself, which obviously infuriates Olivier, the director of the picture. With all of these elements combined, it’s a miracle that the film ever got finished.
Then there’s the main focus of the story: a young man amazingly landing a job in the motion picture industry who forms a relationship with Monroe. It starts off small. They notice each other a few times and slowly get to talking, which eventually becomes something much closer. It gets to a point where he’s the only one that she wants around when she needs someone to talk to.
The film’s exploration of this relationship starts off interesting in the first half as they are getting to know each other, but in the second half, it feels as though the film slows down quite a bit with the relationship levelling out and not developing any further. As we find out, this was apparently not the first time she had this kind of relationship. Apart from having been married three times already by the age of 30, another crew member warns Colin that she had done the exact same thing with him only to end up breaking his heart, so we begin to suspect that the relationship could turn out the same. However, it still remains an interesting film to watch as this unlikely relationship continues.
What really ends up being the biggest highlight of the film are the performances of Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, both of whom were recently nominated for Academy Awards. Williams is able to convey that innocence that Monroe always had on screen. In one of the special features, which I’ll get more into later, one of the crew explains how the Marilyn Monroe that the public knew was a character that she had come up with, and indeed, Williams shows the two sides (public and private) very well.
The casting of Kenneth Branagh as Olivier was quite ironic given that both of them are known for their multiple Shakespeare productions. Both have done excellent adaptations of Hamlet, Oliver’s production of which won him his only competitive Oscar for Best Actor of 1948 (he was also given two honorary Oscars, one for his outstanding adaptation of Henry V and another for his body of work).
Branagh, who is obviously quite familiar with Olivier’s work, gives a great, realistic portrayal of the frustration that Olivier must have gone through while trying to make a film with Monroe. For an actor of Olivier’s caliber to go from the difficulty of bringing Shakespeare to the screen to having to deal with the difficulty of an actress holding up production on a much simpler film could not have been an easy experience, but Branagh portrays it quite well.
Looking at the technical aspects of the Blu-Ray, the film is presented in a beautiful 2.35:1, 1080p transfer that is sharp and clear, allowing every color to come through cleanly. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is crystal clear. Dialogue is completely lucid throughout the film and allows everything from the smallest sound to be heard easily.
Unfortunately, the special features are a bit scarce. Only two are included, one of which is a featurette (The Untold Story of an American Icon) and an audio commentary with director Simon Curtis. A ten-minute sampling of the commentary shows that Curtis has something interesting to say every now and again, but it’s mainly him talking about Colin’s journey along with several instances of “What’s happening here is…” and “We shot this at…”
The 20-minute featurette is a little more interesting as it features interviews with cast and crew talking about the legacy of Marilyn Monroe and about their own characters as well. This was a good start, but, as I usually find myself saying about most Blu-Rays, I would have liked to see more about the making of the film itself. I would have also liked to learn how the actors were able to get into their characters (i.e. Did they do exhaustive research? Did they watch hours of footage to get their characters’ personas down?). Given that these are all real characters, that would have been an interest area to touch on.
Overall, My Week With Marilyn is a decent film that many will find entertaining because of the unique nature of the relationship, while others will find it so because of the great performances. However, when you balance the decent film with the so-so special features, it makes it harder to recommend that you run out and pay good money to own it. In this instance, I would say that you are better off renting the Blu-Ray before coming to a final conclusion as to whether it’s actually worth buying or not. For me, it almost hit the mark, but it didn’t quite get there as a whole.
While the story of this unique relationship is interesting, the sparse special features on the disc bring it down a notch to being just under a recommendation.