There’s a scene in The Prince and the Showgirl—which is the movie that the memoir-based My Week with Marilyn concerns—in which Marilyn Monroe throws a raincoat off a balcony. It’s a tiny moment, but it’s just great: You could watch Marilyn Monroe throw a raincoat off a balcony all day long. Watching her act, generally badly, in the generally bad The Prince and the Showgirl is not the pinnacle of cinematic experience, but it is better than watching Michelle Williams attempt to portray her in My Week with Marilyn. No one should ever try to play Marilyn Monroe. The entire point of Marilyn Monroe is that she possessed an ineffable thing that none of the rest of us ever will (call it an F-able thing, if you want to be rude). Williams isn’t even especially terrible at it, though the breathiness and the moues do get mighty tedious; she’s just a failure, as she is doomed to be.
Kenneth Branagh plays Sir Laurence Olivier with all the woodenness of someone who has a large stick up his posterior—which is, in all likelihood, true to life. A large part of My Week with Marilyn concerns his disgust with Monroe; he directed as well as costarred in The Prince and the Showgirl, and it’s his affected, effete superego versus her lackadaisical but amazing id. Still, the contempt of the actual Laurence Olivier toward the actual Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl (palpable, nearly evil, especially when they have to kiss) is far more interesting. Meanwhile, Eddie Redmayne, as the youthful third director who becomes Marilyn’s confidant on the set in England, is very charming, if stuck in a wide-eyed, freckled mode. (Is there anything better than youthful good looks plus freckles plus a British accent to convey innocence? Also: If “Redmayne” is his stage name, whoever’s responsible should be shot; if not, there may be a God.)
My Week with Marilyn is a pretty film, with scenes of London of yore and country manses and beautiful 1950s British cars, but goodness, is it boring, especially given the potential of the subject matter. It is every inch in the typical biopic mode, with the requisite neutered dialogue (“Don’t get in too deep, son”), always-flattering lighting (there’s a scene so dappled, it’ll make your eyes bleed), tinkling music (which tepidly soars to signal Extra Drama), and solemn voiceovers. Marilyn Monroe fans should wait and get My Week with Marilyn at the same time as The Prince and the Showgirl on Netflix, so that they may compare and contrast (and have the ability to fast-forward both—just do not miss the parts in The Prince and the Showgirl with the dowager queen, played by Sybil Thorndike, who fully steals the comedic show). Everyone else, never mind.