My Week With Marilyn opens with Marliyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) performing the seductive and flirtatious Heat Wave as we cut to the main character, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), his eyes glued to the screen Monroe is projected onto. Williams conveys the playful sauciness of Monroe perfectly, allowing us to understand the fascination and allure that surrounded her throughout the 1950s.
The film features Clark, not Monroe, as its central character. It tells the true life tale of how he met Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Clark had his first job working as the third assistant director, a role which basically has him doing precisely what the director, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) tells him to.
Fortunately for Clark, it soon becomes apparent that his role will involve doing his best to comfort and reassure the insecure Monroe, who is frequently turning up late to set, forgetting her lines, and thinks Olivier hates her. The more the two spend time together, the more Clark falls for Monroe. However, from the title alone, we know that however much Monroe may enjoy Clark’s company, their romance is to be short-lived.
Williams is perfectly suited to a role that requires her on one hand to be Monroe as we see her on screen, alluring, playful and impossible to take your eyes off, and on the other hand, the person who lacked confidence in herself, and still dealing with the emotional trauma of her childhood.
Williams conveys the sense that Monroe was as surprised by anyone by her own success, and completely unsure as to what her actual talent was. The central conflict of the film sees Olivier and Monroe look at each other with contempt and envy. As one character puts it: “Olivier is a great actor who wants to be a film star; and Monroe a great film star who wants to be an actor.”
There’s a sense in which the film is trying to move away from a more emotional story trying to get out. We all know how the life of Marilyn Monroe eventually ends, and it seems to me the decision of Clark to write a book about his experience decades later shows the weight the events of the film must have had on him.
Depite this, the film’s ending seems to see Clark’s character grow up and learn his lesson very quickly. One character remarking “you seem to be about a foot taller since I last saw you.” It’s as though My Week with Marilyn is trying to paint its tale as nothing more than a holiday fling with someone who happens to be Marilyn Monroe; rather than a film about a young man whose fling is with Marilyn Monroe, and how strange, exhilarating and painful that must have been.
For it seems, against all odds, that Clark was just as close, and yet just as far away as anyone else to finding out what lay between the on-screen persona and the off-screen paranoia. Then again, maybe we should dismiss this film, as we might Marilyn, as light, breezy and never to be taken too seriously.