Much ado is made of Sir Laurence Olivier’s surliness towards Marilyn in My Week With Marilyn, but the reading is unfair to Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and symptomatic of the obsessive worship ladled on the actress. As portrayed by Michelle Williams in a script based on memoirs by Collin Clark, Marilyn is a talented but undisciplined actress whose work ethic consists of arriving late, flubbing scenes, and perpetually deferring to the acting coach who clings to her like a security blanket.
It’s arguable whether or not we’re expected to side with those characters in such awe of Marilyn they excuse her unprofessional behaviour, using those moments when her talent is constructively unleased as a glossy rationale. The film’s directorial leanings, tethered to its character’s reverence for Marilyn, certainly strives to include viewers in the genuflections. But for my part I’m with Olivier in putting Marilyn’s star power in a critical perspective. That perspective is further supported by Michelle Williams’ performance, which is certainly evocative and possessed of greater power than Meryl Streep’s impersonation of Margaret Thatcher. Credible as a source of fascination, the portrait of Monroe that emerges from Williams is of a damaged and damaging woman who lacked control over her sexual charisma, and the persona that emerges from it, unless focused through the lens of a camera. Although too innocent to be intentionally malicious, this version of Monroe acts as libido’s wrecking ball. That the film is willing to excuse the collateral damage, whether in the way she ultimately leaves the film’s protagonist or her lack of professionalism, is a symptom of the film’s inability to maintain a biographical detachment from its subject. The result is a superficial film, compelling for its performances but glib in its psychology and narrative.