Let’s just get this out of the way right now: I am, and have been for quite some time, a Marilyn Monroe superfan. I’ve read almost every biography, have watched Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Misfits about 7,000 times, may or may not have been slightly influenced to bleach my honey blonde hair to platinum because of her…I could go on and on. (I even had a cardboard Marilyn once upon a time.) I have very strong opinions on movie Marilyns (and worse, TV movie Marilyns), so to answer your question, the one I know is burning inside of you as it was for me: Yes, Michelle Williams does a very good job playing Monroe in My Week with Marilyn.
She’s not perfect. No teeny-tiny Brooklyn-based actress waif with a pixie cut could quite fill out the swells and swoops and swishy hips that were the trademarks of Monroe. But there’s padding for that. And honestly, Williams’ movie-magic-assisted T&A is pretty satisfying. The two actresses look nothing alike save ultralight hair, but a very talented makeup artist has spent a great deal of time figuring out the tricks that made Norma Jeane, and now Michelle, into Marilyn. Maybe Michelle isn’t the bombshell hourglass with a fragile heart that Marilyn was, but she inhabits the icon without relying on cheap tricks and stereotypes, giving Monroe a depth and a soul behind the peroxide. Soon you forget your misgivings and fall in love with her, much as you would’ve fallen in love with the real Monroe.
My Week with Marilyn is actually a coming-of-age story wryly disguised as a Marilyn biopic. It’s the “true” story of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a real-life young Englishman who spent time working as an assistant director to Laurence Olivier (played by reliably superb Kenneth Branagh, who was widely compared to Olivier when his Henry V was released in 1989) during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in London in 1956.
Young, sweet and hopeful Colin falls in love with moody, tempestuous, magnetic Marilyn, who holds up production on the film with her pill-popping, emotional breakdowns and confidence issues. She and Olivier are at odds during most of filming—she’s a famous Hollywood actress known for her body and not her acting talent; he’s a trained Shakespearean desperate to make his name in the movies. The idealistic Colin serves as Marilyn’s knight in shining armor, taking her away from the pressure of her stardom if just for a few brief days.
Even though Redmayne is the centerpiece of the picture and adorably starry-eyed as Colin, the movie revolves around Michelle/Marilyn. When she’s onscreen, you can’t focus on anything but the glow of her skin and the pains Williams has taken to make her smile develop just as Marilyn’s did. She’s heartbreakingly lovely and the camera adores her; every shot of Michelle/Marilyn is exquisite.
Listening to Branagh deliver his lines in the classically-trained melodic tones of (the unfortunately lipless) Olivier is heaven in and of itself. Williams too has embraced the sultry cadences of Marilyn’s speech, often breathy and occasionally childish. They’re playing such storied legends of stage and screen balls to the wall and you can tell each has done their fair share of studying in preparation. The Prince and the Showgirl, as a movie, is kind of a dud. But My Week with Marilyn is quite the opposite. It’s enchanting.