Kenneth Branagh received his second acting Oscar nomination for portraying Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn.
This performance is one that I really have to almost take a step back to examine for a moment as Branagh attempts to portray Laurence Olivier who is one of the greatest actors ever in my opinion with his performance, after all I think he deserved six acting Oscar victories. Kenneth Branagh and I would probably have something to discuss though as it is pretty clear that he probably likes Olivier as much as I do, since his early career seemed almost to try to replicate Olivier's, and now he in fact gets to portray Laurence Olivier.
Kenneth Branagh portrays Olivier and does try to imitate Olivier's distinct mannerisms both when he is a just being Olivier, as well as Olivier's acting style. I must say unlike some imitation where I have not seen a great deal of the person Branagh is at a disadvantage as I have a great deal of Olivier's films, as well as some his interviews. Branagh although maybe thinks he looks just like a Olivier he honestly does not look all that much like him. Kenneth Branagh again has just a natural disadvantage in this case once again.
Branagh certainly tries extremely hard to attempt to be Olivier, but he just cannot do it even if he gives his honest best shot. The truth is though I do not know if anyone could really completely be Olivier, for me, so again I really don't think I should be too hard on him for this alone. I will say I still did like his mannerisms he used and really they were very much like Olivier from his soft tender voice when quietly whispering, but still keeping the fineness of it even when he is angry and yelling. It is not a perfect realization of Olivier's voice but it is a very good one.
Branagh is as well competent at portraying the classic Olivier sort of glances, and expressions of both joy and annoyance. He even does do a technically fine job of replicating the sort of accents Olivier would use in the film, although I must admit The Prince and the Showgirl is one Olivier film I have not seen surprising enough, but still Branagh most certainly is satisfactory. He never achieves what is the purpose to become Olivier but to be honest few performances of this sort can really do that. One example is Martin Landau in Ed Wood, but than again that is also the best performance ever nominated in this category.
Well past the imitation Branagh has other challenges though. As I said the film takes a scatter shot approach to the material, which is especially true when it comes to Laurence Olivier's role in the film. There are times where he seems to be an important part of the film, and than he is quickly forgotten as well. He also unfortunately is strapped with poorly handled subplot such as wanting to have an affair with Marilyn himself, which they might well not have had considering how it is so quickly forgotten, his relationship with his troubled wife Vivien Leigh, and his supposed animosity toward method acting.
I won't argue with the film on specific points about Olivier's history even if it is all far too simplified or just inaccurate, but the problem is nothing is focused upon to really be very well developed. This though is all the more reason to give Branagh just credit in his role, for actually developing a character within the mess of one he is actually is given. He does manage to bring life to Olivier's struggle with the whole production of the film. He realizes the frustrations of Olivier's well as it slowly increases in each scene, and that part of his response almost is to find anyway to deter the problems of his co-star.
Branagh's Olivier is going through every sort of emotion in each scene, while still having to jump into acting character from time to time as well. Branagh actually is convincing in portraying the constant downpour of emotions that Olivier must deal with, and even though the script offers little help Branagh manages to move from each emotion with a great deal of clarity and realism. In fact in his final scene Branagh really is terrific as he shows exactly what Olivier's learned from the experience in a fairly poignant moment, where he feels the most truly Olivier.
This performance is not perfect as the script, and the feat of being Olivier makes that quite difficult. It turned out to me though quite an enjoyable one, as Branagh managed to bring what he could to life despite the limitations and challenges of the part. Also I will admit freely I enjoyed seeing an Olivier depiction, and my ability to spot a few subtle moments in the script, even if anachronistic. As Olivier in the film quotes the Entertainer, the line about dead behind theses eyes, before he apparently even read the play. Although Branagh rendition of that line is good it is of course, it is not the absolute astonishing moment as it is in Olivier's performance in The Entertainer. That really sums up this performance for me Branagh managed to be good in the part of Olivier, but never able to truly become the acting greatness of Olivier.