This new "limited" biopic will appeal most to fans of an iconic American blonde actress who went to England to make a film (adapted from a play) under the working title The Sleeping Prince with none other than Sir Laurence Olivier Perhaps interest in the depths of the bombshell character (and the notion of celebrity) surpass what appears to be conventional and told primarily in surface terms.
My Week With Marilyn covers a pivotal time in Marilyn Monroe's career (which would lead to greater success in films such as Some Like It Hot) just after her wedding to playwright Arthur Miller, and is based on the memoirs of bright-eyed innocent Colin Clark, whose perspective comes through effectively from a watchable Eddie Redmayne who is good opposite Michelle Williams who does more than recreate the image of a screen goddess.
Redmayne's rabid cinephile in Colin is able to break away from his family's opulence to be the assistant to Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, who recently directed Thor and further back Hamlet) at the famous Pinewood Studios.
With a background from the stage and small screen, helmer Simon Curtis senses the awe in the perception of the performer looking to overcome personal issues and pressures inherent in her persona. Here, the screenplay puts emphasis on the key relationship between the Marilyn and Colin who would help get in her in a better comfort zone on what was an intimidating set. Through a fluffy feeling early on, a romantic pulse helps fuel what opens up more distinctively from the public, and later, private standpoint.
From the neuroses and frustrations of star and director, respectively, as well as the production with its own impediments, the filmmaking underscores the varying contributions to the medium, evocative of the period. Even if the storytelling, with at least a couple of subplots, doesn't captivate like Williams in bookending scenes and clarity into performance (including singing) from the original movie.
It helps that she has a fine ensemble alongside her, many of whom may have slighter touches than what some might thought would have been included. Branagh finds a spark in capturing a chameleon of an irascible star filmmaker (when many established theater actors had already received their monikers prior to seguing into film).
Dame Judi Dench (of J. Edgar) is a soothing presence of Marilyn as a veteran actress and adds to the scenes which she's in, and Toby Jones, as Marilyn's harried publicist, is a droll presence. While Dougray Scott is somewhat sidelined as family-minded Miller, Julia Ormond has more nuance through Olivier's wife Vivian Leigh who isn't happy with her husband's mindset about her. Zoe Wanamaker appears as Marilyn's Method acting coach and Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Pt. 2) as a costume hand who Colin begins to pass over to her dismay.
What could have stronger mainstream appeal (and perhaps a longer stay in arthouses) this holiday season is made likeable (in a gradually) ebullient way by Williams who shows off her gifts in a glamorous turn that may easily translate into more than Oscar talk. Even if this fascinating glimpse into a snippet of Marilyn's too-short life falls well short of the aura she projected.