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Colin Clark was 23 years old when the most famous movie star in the world, Marilyn Monroe, came to England to co-star with acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, which Olivier was also directing. Young and well-connected, Clark wangled himself a job as the film’s third assistant director (otherwise known as an uncredited gofer). When the film shoot turned difficult (and what production starring Monroe didn’t?), Clark, if we are to believe his account, became Monroe’s confidant and partner in flirtation. Clark later turned his time on the set into material for a couple of books: the first, a set of diaries, and the second, a memoir about his relationship with Monroe, which forms the basis of My Week With Marilyn.
The truth of what actually occurred between Monroe and Clark is immaterial. There are only two real reasons to see this movie. The first is the spooky-good impersonation of Monroe by Michelle Williams. Although she never mimics Monroe’s face 100% accurately, she has the rest of her body language down pat: the wiggle in her walk, the breathy voice, the twinkle in her eyes, and her ability to turn the sex-goddess persona on and off at will. Williams’ performance is a sight to behold. No slouch either is Kenneth Branagh in his depiction of Olivier. His speech and mannerisms closely approximate the real thing.
The second reason to see My Week With Marilyn is for its encapsulation of a running controversy among actors. The classically trained Olivier was greatly perturbed by Monroe’s reliance on method acting, which required her to understand her character’s motivations and find a certain truthfulness in the action and dialogue. A consummate professional, Olivier believed in showing up on time and delivering one’s lines as written, honesty be damned. Then, of course, Monroe’s legendary insecurities fed into this debate: Monroe required her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Wanamaker) to be at her side constantly, while Olivier regarded Strasberg as an extra impediment; Monroe’s problems with pills, men, and self-doubt made her perennially late to the set, while the pros resented her behavior and stewed in their own juices. It’s an old debate about acting styles that’s not likely to disappear anytime soon, and although My Week With Marilyn gives the discussion a good airing, it does not break any new ground on the subject. Thus, this indifferently shot film winds up being another in a long line of creative works by men that exploit the legacy of Marilyn Monroe for their own satisfaction and little public good.