Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier: 'My Week with Marilyn'

Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Olivier, My Week with Marilyn
Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier, My Week with Marilyn

Once upon a time, Kenneth Branagh was hailed as the new Laurence Olivier. Back in early 1990, Branagh was nominated for two Academy Awards for directing and starring in Henry V, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's play that back in early 1947 had earned Olivier a Best Actor nomination and an Honorary Award for “his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen.”

More Olivier comparisons followed as Branagh went on to tackle Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), and Hamlet (1996). The latter two had served as prestigious Olivier vehicles: Best Picture Oscar winner Hamlet (1948) earned Olivier a Best Actor Oscar and a Best Director nomination; the originally made-for-television Othello (1965) received several special big-screen showings and ended up earning Olivier his seventh Best Actor Oscar nod. (Note: Olivier had the title role in Othello; Branagh played Iago to Laurence Fishburne's Othello in the 1996 version.)

Branagh even had his own Vivien Leigh in the form of wife and frequent co-star Emma Thompson.

Now best known as the director of the worldwide blockbuster Thor and of the upcoming Thor 2, the 50-year-old Kenneth Branagh is no longer compared to Laurence Olivier. Or at least not as frequently. Movies such as Theory of Flight, Alien Love Triangle, The Gingerbread Man, and Celebrity helped to all but destroy the Branagh-Olivier connection.

But maybe those comparisons will return thanks to Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn, in which Branagh quite literally steps into Olivier's shoes.

Back in 1957, Marilyn Monroe traveled to England to star opposite Laurence Olivier, fresh off of a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Richard III, in a period romantic comedy adapted by Terence Rattigan from his own play, The Prince and the Showgirl. Despite (or perhaps because of) all the publicity and high hopes surrounding the odd pairing of diamond-loving Lorelei Lee and soliloquy-obsessed Hamlet, The Prince and the Showgirl was considered both an artistic and a box office misfire.

In My Week with Marilyn, Branagh brings Olivier back to life while Michelle Williams incarnates the very blonde and very difficult Monroe. Eddie Redmayne, Tony Award winner and Kristen Stewart's co-star in The Yellow Handkerchief, plays Colin Clark, Olivier's assistant at the time and on whose diary the film is based.

The My Week with Marilyn cast also includes Julia Ormond as Olivier's then wife Vivien Leigh (talk about offbeat casting), Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike (more offbeat casting), Dominic Cooper as producer Milton H. Greene, Dougray Scott as Monroe's then husband Arthur Miller, Zoë Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2's Emma Watson.

My Week with Marilyn will premiere at the New York Film Festival. It is slated to open in the U.S. on November 4.

Note: In Henry V, Emma Thompson had the role originally played by Renée Asherson in Olivier's 1944 film version.

Photo via Empire.

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