It was a fascinating collaboration: The most famous woman in the world opposite the greatest stage actor of a generation.
What could possibly go wrong?
The on-set diary and memoir of third assistant director Colin Clark revealed that Monroe consistently turned up late on set, driving Olivier to the brink of madness as the production fell woefully behind schedule.
While fellow cast including Dame Sybil Thorndike looked on, the director and his leading lady clashed, and Clark, just 23 at the time and fresh out of Oxford, became a go-between, winning the trust of the emotionally fragile starlet.
My Week With Marilyn crafts Clark’s recollections of that turbulent period into a bittersweet drama, laden with the cream of British acting talent.
Adrian Hodges’s script glistens with polished one-liners and provides Michelle Williams with a show-stopping role as a cinematic icon that richly deserves Oscar recognition.
Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) hails from privileged stock and thanks to family connections, he secures a position working as assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
From the moment Marilyn (Michelle Williams) arrives, Olivier is smitten and his wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) wearily tolerates the obsession, noting coolly, “I’m 43. No one will love me for very much longer.”
On set, Olivier’s desire turns to frustration as Marilyn fluffs takes and turns up late.
Celebrity photographer Milton H Greene (Dominic Cooper), who is part of Marilyn’s entourage with acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), issues a warning: “Accept Marilyn on her terms and you will be okay. Try to change her and she’ll drive you crazy.”
So Olivier asks Colin to win his leading lady’s trust and get her to set on time.
While Colin falls under Marilyn’s spell and extinguishes a burgeoning romance with wardrobe mistress Lucy (Emma Watson), the screen siren argues with her husband, writer Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).
My Week With Marilyn is a valentine to the art of film-making and to a woman whose radiance on the screen concealed destructive demons.
Williams could never match the full luminosity of Monroe but she comes close, capturing the vulnerability and mood swings, the naivete and inner conflict.
Redmayne exudes the innocence of a young man getting his heart broken for the very first time and Branagh is a comic whirlwind, responding to each setback with a barbed quip.
“Teaching Marilyn is like teaching Urdu to a badger!” he rages.
The era is handsomely recreated, tinged with the sadness that only six years after Olivier’s battle of words with Monroe, she would be dead.
In Simon Curtis’s thoroughly entertaining film, her star still burns white hot.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10
Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland), 98 mins