Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl

We sat in a large Odeon screen with just two other couples to watch My Week With Marilyn on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon. What a shame there wasn’t a bigger audience for what is undoubtedly a superior entertainment. OK, director Simon Curtis is a veteran of TV series without a cinema track record, but this is a well-made film with good pacing and the sense to let its obvious attractions shine for the audience – a cast of generally well-known and well-loved actors, some rather touristy shots of Kent and Buckinghamshire dressed up as 1950s locations and a wonderful central performance by Michelle Williams which is alone worth the price of admission.

The story is based on the diary of Colin Clark, younger brother of the more feted diarist Alan Clark. In 1956 Colin used his family connections (as the son of the art historian Kenneth Clark) to wangle a job with Laurence Olivier’s film company and his first production role was ‘3rd’ (Assistant Director) on The Prince and the Showgirl in which Olivier attempted to adapt the successful West End play in which he played opposite his wife Vivienne Leigh. But Leigh was considered ‘too old’ (at 43) and Olivier made a deal to bring over Marilyn Monroe, recently married to Arthur Miller and seeking the opportunity to show that she could act opposite Olivier. The shoot was extremely difficult for all concerned and according to Clark’s diaries he befriended Marilyn and helped her through. This friendship is the focus of the film.

Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier and gives a delightful and convincing performance in terms of dialogue and facial expressions – even though he doesn’t look much like Olivier. Similarly Judi Dench presents herself as Sybil Thorndike. But it is Ms Williams who steals the show. We know she is one of the best female actors of her generation but my limited exposure to her skills has been through more downbeat roles in American Independents such as Brokeback Mountain and Meek’s Cutoff. Here she ‘acts’ rather than impersonates Marilyn, brilliantly handling the insecure off-set Marilyn, the warm companionable fun girl away from the film business and the flirty Marilyn in performance mode.

Here’s the trailer:

And the ‘original film’, The Prince and the Showgirl:

. . . Marilyn performing ‘That Old Black Magic’ in Bus Stop (1955) (the film is dubbed in French):