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With: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Pip Torrens, Geraldine Somerville, Michael Kitchen, Miranda Raison, Karl Moffatt, Simon Russell Beale, Robert Portal, Philip Jackson, Jim Carter
Written by: Adrian Hodges, based on books by Colin Clark
Directed by: Simon Curtis
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 99
Date: 10/09/2011

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Some Do Not Like It Hot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Marilyn Monroe is one of the essential icons of the 20th century. Many people have their own ideas of who she was and what she was like, and the odds are that Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn does not correspond with many of those ideas. Many will use this as their main criticism of the movie, which is a huge mistake. No, Michelle Williams is not Marilyn Monroe. But what she does in this movie is fascinating and worthy of consideration.

The movie takes place in 1956, after Marilyn (played by Williams) has married playwright Arthur Miller. She has formed her own production company and has a personal acting coach. She's looking to move out of giggly bombshell parts and into something more serious, and the new movie The Prince and the Showgirl directed by the esteemed Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) seems to be just the ticket.

But being on the set causes her great anxiety. What if she doesn't have what it takes? She meets a young 3rd assistant director, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) and makes him her confidante for her time on the production. There really was a Colin Clark, and this movie is based on two books he wrote about his experience.

Simon Curtis, who has produced movies and has been involved in the British television industry for some twenty years, makes his feature directorial debut here, though he directed a television adaptation of "David Copperfield" in 1999. He has his finger directly on the pulse of this movie, which splits into an infinite number of facets. Everyone in the movie understandably becomes fascinated with Marilyn, everyone forms and opinion of her, and everyone's opinion is a little different.

Some characters think she's smart, and some think she's helpless. Some think she has natural ability, and some think she has somehow manipulated it. Colin thinks she's magnificent and is ready to fall in love with her. Everyone warns him not to, but Marilyn herself makes it look so easy. In essence, there is no "real" Marilyn here. What she does is merely react to everything that anyone says, both confirming and denying all the various opinions. Perhaps reacting is what she does best, which is what Olivier discovers while watching dailies. When she nails a scene, she absolutely shines, and Williams does this too.

If Williams and Monroe intertwine their personas for this role, the movie gets bonus points by doing the same with Olivier and Branagh. Ever since Branagh exploded onto the movie scene with his Henry V (1989), he has elicited comparisons to Olivier. And now Branagh is 50, roughly the same age as Olivier when he encountered Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. In other words, Branagh understands Olivier in a way that no one else alive possibly could, and his adaptation -- not an impersonation -- is fascinating. His tragedy is that, even though he's Olivier, he's still only second to Marilyn.

Sadly, the movie wastes time with marginal characters like a wardrobe girl, Lucy (Emma Watson), whom Colin tries to date before meeting Marilyn. All the other characters here are built exclusively to look at Marilyn, and when they're not doing that, the movie stalls. To put this more simply, My Week with Marilyn is like Citizen Kane, in that it's an attempt to nail down the truth of one person. The more opinions that come up, the less certain anything is. And ultimately, no one can be truly known. Williams seems to know this in her performance, and if we applaud her, it's not for the way she acts like Marilyn, but for the way she slips away from our grasp.

Anchor Bay released the bright, glowingly gorgeous Blu-Ray edition; director Curtis provides a commentary track, and there's a brief featuette including interviews with the cast.

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