Actress nails portrayal of Monroe

Actress nails portrayal of Monroe

‘My Week with Marilyn’

Starring: Michelle Williams,

Eddie Redmayne

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: R

Based on the memoir of Colin Clark, who was a 23-year old production assistant on a movie when he met Marilyn Monroe in 1956, this is faithful recreation of the era and the iconic star, thanks to a stunning portrayal by Michelle Williams.

The significance of Clark’s remembrance is his relationship with the starlet, who had just married playwright Arthur Miller when she consented to star in “The Prince and the Showgirl,” a Pinewood Studio feature directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier, played with stuffy brio by Kenneth Branagh. For each, the experience was supposed to be a career changer as Olivier wanted to show he could play the lighter fare instead of just Shakespeare, and Monroe was desperate to prove she was not just a face and a figure, but an actress.

Famous accounts of the filming recall that Monroe created a quite a clamor when she arrived in London with her entourage including her husband, and acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), whose “method” approach collided with Olivier’s more theatrical style, producing a strained tension on set. Complicating matters was Monroe’s tardiness or absences due to a combination of her insecurities magnified by her self-medication with alcohol and pills.

From the outset, director Simon Curtis and scripter Adrian Hodge set up two sides to the story — Olivier and his camp abhor Marilyn for her lack of professionalism but, like everyone else, are mesmerized by her beauty. Others, such as Lady Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) and Strasberg, who was more of a nursemaid than an acting coach, coddle Marilyn. When Monroe asks young Clark which side he’s on, he wisely replies “yours,” and their close friendship begins in earnest.

When Miller leaves England to return to New York, Monroe turns to Clark, making him her confidant and protector. For that week, he was her closest ally as he fell in love with her and she turned to him out of neediness. We also see glimpses of her many sides — the frightened little orphan, the blonde bombshell — and it’s not hard to believe that in six short years from then she would be dead from an overdose.

Besides the kick of seeing so many great characters come to life, the real wonder here is Williams. Much has been made of the fact she doesn’t exactly resemble Monroe, but that’s merely a detail. What she does do remarkably well is create the illusion of Monroe by capturing the cadence of her breathy voice, mannerisms and posture, but with such nuance as to keep her real, never tripping over into the caricature that has become all too familiar.

It’s a very smart choice that naturally transforms Williams, who must not only be Monroe the woman, but Monroe the actress in the scenes lifted from the “The Prince and the Showgirl,” and Monroe the entertainer in two of her famous song and dance numbers.

Redmayne, familiar to the American audience from “The Good Shepherd,” captures the gawky, wide-eyed wonder of first love beautifully and mostly does a good job of staying in the background until needed. He doesn’t try to compete with Branagh or Williams, but he’s in almost every scene. In addition, there are great performances all around including Wanamaker, Dougray Scott as the bewildered Miller, and Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Olivier’s wife at the time.

Just as Monroe’s infatuation with Clark lasted only a short while, the film itself is just shy of 90 minutes, making it a pleasurable diversion instead of a drawn-out platonic affair. It ends on a sweet note that one can only imagine were few and far between in Monroe’s tragic life.This film is playing in Houston theaters now.

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