Without knowing the details of the film, someone walking past a poster for My Week with Marilyn would certainly think it was yet another Marilyn Monroe biopic. They would, however, be mistaken. Though a spitting image of the Hollywood icon, the face staring out from the glossy posters is not Marilyn’s but Michelle Williams’. Along with Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, and Dame Judi Dench, Williams stars in this intimate glimpse of the most famous actress in the world.
My Week with Marilyn takes place in 1956 during the London shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film that was meant to be pivotal for many of the people involved. The Prince was the maiden voyage of the brand new Marilyn Monroe Productions. The movie was meant to launch Monroe into the realm of the serious actress. Likewise, co-star, director, and acting legend Laurence Olivier was hoping this film would revitalize his career, making him a screen star once again. Meanwhile, a young Colin Clark found his first job on the set as third assistant director.
I had the pleasure of speaking with My Week with Marilyn director Simon Curtis last week. He began in theater before enjoying a fruitful career in television. Among his many productions are the Emmy-winning “Cranford” and David Copperfield, starring Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen, and a pre-HP Daniel Radcliffe. Marilyn is his first foray into directing for the big screen. He remarked on his choice for a first film: “It was a gamble. There were other things I had talked about doing. I decided to hold out for this because it was the project I loved.”
Curtis first became fascinated with the events surrounding The Prince and the Showgirl after reading Colin Clark’s memoirs.
“I…loved them [Clark’s books] from the first time I read them. And that was really my way into the movie…It was this young man’s journey – the dream first job…getting to work on this particular movie and making contact with Marilyn. It was Colin Clark’s diaries that was the starting point.”
Clark’s first book, The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me, published in 1996, is a fly-on-the-wall account of the happenings on set, including the tumultuous relationship that developed between Olivier and Monroe. The book, however, omitted a key week during shooting – the week that Clark spent with Monroe, touring the English countryside and forming an unlikely and unorthodox romance. This week was the subject of Clark’s follow-up, My Week with Marilyn, published in 2001.
The film not only depicts a very unique coming-of-age story, but also allows the audience an intimate view of Marilyn Monroe. Curtis pointed out that, while nearly everyone recognizes Monroe’s face and her impact on our culture, few have an extensive knowledge of her films.
“She is a very famous name and an incredibly famous face but people don’t really know the actor. They haven’t seen the movies nearly as much as they know who she is and they know the soap opera of her life.” In many ways, The Prince and the Showgirl was supposed to change that. With a new marriage and production company, this period was supposed to be a turning point in Monroe’s life. Unfortunately, it ended up being “the story of how all of these things went wrong.”
Curtis’s film depicts three Marilyns: the character in The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn the icon, and the vulnerable woman behind everything. Curtis’ first choice for the challenging role was Michelle Williams.
“She is such a conscientious, hard-working person in her own right…Michelle would study the performances and she’d have an iPad on the set…she is the hardest-working actress I know…I was really lucky to have someone working that hard playing the part. Watching her performance…is one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened in my career. It was clear she was doing something remarkable.”
To support Williams, Marilyn also features Branagh as Laurence Olivier and Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark. Held together with the glue that is Curtis’ beautiful direction, these award-worthy performances make for a truly outstanding film. My Week with Marilyn also stars Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, and Emma Watson. The film opens November 23.
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