A feature-length film shows us the real power of Marilyn Monroe through the eyes of a 23 year old guy who spent one week with her in his first job as a 3rd assistant director on The Prince & The Showgirl (1957) It was nominated for 5 BAFTA awards.
Michelle Williams is brave to take on a portrayal of such an unparalleled icon – because most actresses who do tend to seem like just any normal person at a fancy dress party with a dead Hollywood theme. The good news is – I can see why she’s been getting major award nominations in the Best Actress category because this might well be the very best characterization of Marilyn Monroe that goes well beyond mimicry or caricature.
Marilyn had the ‘it’ factor and the Medusa power. Her presence and look performed a kind of Siren’s song on anyone who got close to her. Michelle Williams delivers slivers and glimmers of this magic. And this is not a criticism – just an observation of the alchemy the film sets out to achieve.
And mention must be made of the great insights into what it might have been like working with a pill-popping, hungover enchantress who herself was under the spell of a clingy, controlling acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) – according to the diary of the real life Colin Clark who grew up to be a documentary maker after his week with Marilyn. These insights are presented in scenes with Judi Dench playing Dame Sybil Thorndike which reveal the patient tenderness people found it easy to show Monroe.
Other great scenes expose how she could be morbidly exasperating to work with during the shoot of The Prince & The Showgirl and the best of these scenes contain comic moments that make Kenneth Branagh’s performance one that almost stole the show from the showgirl. His task was no less daunting than Williams’ as he played the great Sir Laurence Olivier – an actor who (for me) is just as enthralling as Monroe. Okay, more so. He got three Oscars and was nominated for ten more.
The power of Michelle Williams’ performance is that she manages to cast a spell over the audience not unlike the real Monroe did. It is a reflection, an interpretation and hence not the real thing. But so was the Norma Jean creation of Marilyn Monroe.
My Week With Marilyn is in cinemas from Thur Feb 16 and if you’d like to sample the Monroe magic to see if this film is for you – here’s the trailer…