"My Week with Marilyn" is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at movie-making, stardom and Marilyn Monroe, the silver screen's most iconic sex symbol.

That Monroe's tragic life was intertwined with celebrity marriages and alleged relationships with Hollywood, political, sports and literature icons, including Frank Sinatra, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller only adds to an abiding appetite for insight about Marilyn.

In the nearly 40 years since Monroe's death at 36 by an apparent overdose of prescription medicine Aug. 5, 1962, soon after getting fired from the movie, "Something's Got to Give," more information about her has become available. The fascination with Monroe only seems to grow.

That's the case with "My Week with Marilyn," a slice of bio pic based on memoirs by Colin Clark, third assistant director on "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), a comedy Monroe filmed in England opposite Sir Laurence Olivier, who played The Prince and also directed.

Monroe's production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, put "The Prince and the Showgirl" together. As Clark sums it up, Monroe was a movie star who wanted to be taken seriously as a great actress, and Olivier was a great actor who wanted to be a movie star again.

While the film's credits state it is based on a "true story," from two memoirs Clark wrote in 1995 and 2000 (and made into a 2004 documentary), with a screenplay by Adrian Hodges, certain Monroe experts have disputed the account of Clark, a son of historian Kenneth Clark. Colin Clark died in 2002.

Monroe was 30 while playing Elsie, the showgirl in "The Prince and the Showgirl." Monroe received a BAFTA, David di Donatello and Crystal Star awards, British, Italian and French equivalents of Oscars, respectively, for acting for "The Prince and the Showgirl."

Monroe received a Golden Globe actress musical-comedy award for "Some Like It Hot" (1959). Monroe's performance in her final movie, "The Misfits" (1961), opposite Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter and directed by John Huston, was possibly her best-ever.

"My Week with Marilyn" is, by turns, funny, touching and tear-provoking, propelled by a spot-on performance by Michelle Williams, ironically perhaps, a Golden Globe nominee for her performance as Monroe.

The story takes place when Monroe's husband, playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), was away from the film production for one week and Colin Clark befriends her.

While at times, the film, directed by Simon Curtis in his big-screen directorial debut, is predictable and stagey, Williams' transformation into Hollywood's most famous blonde burns through most of the screenplay's uneven pages.

Director of Photography Ben Smithard ("The Trip") mostly films Williams' face in close ups at glamorous angles, perhaps to keep the viewer off-guard in trying to analyze how much she resembles Monroe, or perhaps to best capture Williams' similarity in appearance in the role as Monroe.

Williams ("Shutter Island," "Blue Valentine") conveys "the look" Monroe established in "Niagara" (1953) and exploited in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953), "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), "The Seven Year Itch" (1955) and "Bus Stop" (1956). "Shall I be her?" Monroe (Williams) says to Clark in "The Prince and the Showgirl" before posing in her bombshell persona for fans.

Williams approximates Monroe's vocal inflections, facial expressions and body language. Williams is equally mesmerizing as Monroe singing "Heat Wave." Monroe's disarming charm, spontaneity and neediness provides the film with its chief attributes.

On set, Olivier's growing irritation with Monroe was not only because of her tardiness, but also the hovering and interjecting presence of Monroe's acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker). Monroe studied with Paula's husband, Lee Strasberg, at the Actors Studio, which espoused Method Acting, based on Constantin Stanislavsky's emphasis on mining one's emotions and memories. "It's a light comedy," Olivier fumes on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl."

Kenneth Branagh, a Golden Globe nominee for his role as Olivier, who directed and acted in film versions of many of Shakespeare's works, is a great choice to play Olivier, of whom it was said that he could speak Shakespeare's lines as if he was thinking them.

Eddie Redmayne ("The Other Boleyn Girl," "The Good Shepherd") as Colin Clark, 23, conveys well a freckle-faced naivety. It's through Clark's eyes and emotions, bookended by voiceovers, that we are taken onto the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl," witness the machinations between Branagh and Monroe, and enter Monroe's inner sanctum.

Julia Ormond is fine in a supporting role as Olivier's wife, Vivien Leigh, who appeared opposite him in the 1953 stage version of "The Sleeping Prince" (depicted on the clapper boards as the working title for "The Prince and the Showgirl").

Also splendid is Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who played the Queen Dowager in "The Prince the Showgirl."

Emma Watson is surprisingly excellent as a production employee and Clark's romantic interest. It's great to see her freed from the "Harry Potter" triumvirate.

The fashion design by Jill Taylor ("Match Point") is notable. The men are all tweedy and vests and ties. Monroe's attire conveys her coquettish nature. The Monroe costume for "The Prince and the Showgirl" is very accurate.

In "My Week with Marilyn," Dame Thorndike says, "When Marilyn gets it right, you just don't want to look at anyone else."

It would be ironic, and fitting, if Williams would win a Golden Globe and Oscar for her portrayal of Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn."

Four decades later, we still want to spend a week, or even an hour, with Marilyn, if only in screenland.

"My Week with Marilyn," MPAA Rated R for some language (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian); Genre: Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 39 minutes; Distributed by The Weinstein Company and BBC Films.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Alexandre Desplat ("The King's Speech") composed "Marilyn's Theme" for "My Week with Marilyn." The soundtrack was composed by Conrad Pope. Pianist Lang Lang performs on the score. The soundtrack CD includes Michelle Williams performing "Heat Wave" and "That Old Black Magic" and original recordings by Nat King Cole ("Autumn Leaves") and Dean Martin ("Memories Are Made Of This").

Box Office, Dec. 23: Tom Cruise reclaimed his box office supremacy, with his "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol," climbing to No. 1 after opening at No. 3 in limited release, with $29,500,000 for the long Christmas holiday weekend, and $61,935,000 after two weeks, dropping Robert Downey Jr.'s "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" to No. 2, with $20,260,000 and $79,014,000, after two weeks.

3. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," $12,750,000, weekend; $21,126,000, since opening Dec. 20; 4. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked," $12,650,000; $49,590,000, two weeks; 5. "The Adventures of Tintin," $9,705,000, weekend; $17,712,000, since opening Dec. 21; 6. "We Bought a Zoo," $9,450,000, weekend; 7. "War Horse," $7,512,000, opening Dec. 25; 8. "New Year's Eve," $3,315,000; $32,652, three weeks; "The Darkest Hour," $3 million, opening Dec. 25; 16.:"My Week with Marilyn," $558,000, 602 screens; $6,977,000; five weeks. Because of early deadlines for the New Year's holiday, Dec. 30 weekend box office figures were not available.

Unreel, Jan. 6:

"The Iron Lady," PG-13: Meryl Streep stars as United Kingdom's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The biography drama also stars Jim Broadbent and Richard E. Grant.

"Newlyweds," Not yet rated: Ed Burns directs himself, Kerry Bishe and Caitllin Fitzgerald in a comedy feature with a reported budget of only $9,000.

"Pariah," R: Dee Ress writes, directs and stars in a drama about a Brooklyn teenager.

"The Devil Inside," Not yet rated: A woman is involved in unauthorized exorcisms in Italy as she tries to discover what happened to her mother, who is said to have murdered three persons during her own exorcism.

Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes