PCMR Rating: 6/10
A lot of popular entertainment is about impressions, and if you were unlucky enough to spend an odd Saturday evening watching ITV in the 90's, you probably remember one example. You see, before the polished, cosmopolitan 'X-Factor' vomited onto our screens, the telly-watching public were subjected to comparatively less cultured 'Stars in their Eyes', featuring Matthew Kelly, a dressing-up box, and a karaoke machine. "Tonight, Matthew", they would say, "I will be... Kiki... DEE!". And then lo and behold, through the magic of telly they transform, and in fact often do bear a resemblance to their celebrity chum... until they start singing anyway.
What 'Stars' demonstrated week after week was that, once the uncanny resemblance is out of the way, there has to be something more, something new and idiosyncratic that the impersonator brings to the party. Without that certain something extra, the impression falls a bit flat, and we're reminded of the dressing-up box.
In 'My Week With Marilyn', Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are in full impersonation mode, to tell the true story of a certain Colin Clark's encounter with the world's most famous actress. The film is set in Pinewood Studios in 1957, and narrated by Clark, who is played very competently by the unfeasibly youthful looking Eddie Redmayne.
In 1957, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) is already a household name, and is shooting 'The Prince and the Showgirl' at Pinewood with Laurence Olivier (Branagh). It's Clark's first job, as a 'third' or 'third assistant director' (essentially a go-fer), and as the movie begins we see him leaving home to make his own way, starting from humble beginnings, yadda yadda yadda.
Monroe and Olivier conflicted on set for many reasons. For one, Marilyn was a movie star, and Olivier was an ac-tor, which you can't pronounce correctly without saying 'darling' afterwards. Ironically, each coveted what the other had: and this is the driving theme of the movie. Olivier wants to be a star, Marilyn wants to be respected, and Clark wants to bask in their reflected glory.
Williams' Marilyn is insecure on set, requiring constant reassurance that she belongs. Off-set, her marriage to third husband Arthur Miller appears to be rocky and, after Miller leaves the set to return to the United States, a lonely Marilyn seeks solace in the uncomplicated company of the innocent local named Colin. (Wait, Marilyn Monroe had a fling with a guy called 'Colin'? - Ed) In Marilyn's eyes, Clark is uncorrupted by the movie industry, and this innocence appeals to her (more coveting? - Ed).
This relationship is effectively the core of the movie, and to a large extend the two complement each other pretty well. Williams does a fine job as Marilyn, but although Redmayne does an ok job, his character is perhaps a little too clean-cut, homogenized to the point where he's a little dull.
As rounded and capable as Williams' performance is, Branagh's Olivier is more fun, a sweary, bombastic alternative to the romantic flippencies of Marilyn and Colin. Branagh's is more of a supporting role however, and although he's not in the film nearly as much as Williams or Redmayne, he steals a lot of his scenes. Judi Dench provides further gravitas, and the very capable Emma Watson even throws in a nice turn.
The thing is, it's all rather nice, but unfortunately, much like Colin himself, it's a little bit throwaway (er, spoiler alert? - Ed). The story is enjoyable because it's true, so it works as a historical document, but the theme of 'be careful what you wish for' is pretty lightweight. Also, although Williams' Marilyn is very good, her performance never really elevates beyond faithful impersonation for me, which contrasts with Branagh's breezy take on Olivier. So, some good performances, but if you think that this is heavyweight, Oscar-worthy drama, then PCMR thinks you may have the wrong impression.