October 2015



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Review: W.E.

Heaven knows I'll watch anything about Wallis Simpson and Edward. I even enjoyed that nonsense that Steven Campbell-Moore and Joelly Richardson did a few years back. So I'd been wanting to see W.E., Madonna's directing/scriptwriting debut, since it came out. I just watched it, and... I am confused.

Madonna's intentions in terms of plot were pretty clear, and pretty worthy, in my opinion. On the one hand, she wanted to deconstruct "the greatest love story" and show what Wallis, as well as Edward, gave up; on the other hand, she wanted to debunk the myths surrounding Wallis (slut, Nazi, golddigger, etc.) and show her as a real woman.

Either of these would have made an interesting film. By refusing to pick and stick with one, the film leaves you wondering why Wallis would have made all the sacrifices she did. Wallis' motivations are never really clear; you can see that she enjoys Edward's company, but when weighed against the trouble she went through, it doesn't seem worth it. Edward himself is portrayed as weak and pampered and thoroughly unattractive (although not nearly as much as Bertie, who's dominated by Natalie Dormer's Elizabeth with an exaggerated lisp and a commanding tone, and left fanning himself with a lady's fan because he's so discombobulated - really, can we not get beyond these caricatures? Can this story not be told without this hyperbole?).

The result is messy, really messy. And that's made so, so very much worse by the addition of a modern-day parallel: a bored socialite who is equally obsessed with Wallis Simpson and with getting pregnant by her philandering husband. This second story was a complete waste of time, pulling us away from what might have managed to successfully accomplish one, possibly both, of Madonna's goals. It didn't help that the modern-day socialite, played by Abby Cornish, delivers her entire side of the film without ever changing her facial expression even once, or that Richard Coyle will always be Geoffrey from Coupling, not a sexy high-powered doctor, or that the contrivances of this side of the "plot" caused the socialite to be named "Wallis" and her new lover, a Russian intellectual slumming as a security guard but still able to afford a ginormous flat in NYC, was named Evgeni so their initials also would also be W. and E. Spare me.

And so I wasted two hours - yes, this trainwreck runs for two full hours - but could not turn it off for one reason: Andrea Riseborough. She is enchanting! I've loved her in other things - she played the original Annie in Being Human and the lead in The Devil's Whore miniseries - but I didn't expect her to so completely inhabit this role. It was absolutely stunning and she deserves all the awards for her performance.

It's also a pretty movie. A lot of Madonna's directorial choices feel like they've come straight from music videos, so you get a hyper attention to the little details - the cigarette travelling up to a pair of lips, a jangling charm bracelet as a wrist points out directions authoritatively, sparkling martini glasses and polished nails on a cocktail shaker. There's also an awful lot of half-shadowed profiles and bathed-in-window-light scenes. It's beautiful stuff, and when accompanied by a worthwhile story, it worked so well. But too much of it plodded along, especially in the modern-day segment, with every IVF injection given a triple-take reminiscent of a Bollywood fistfight.

It's too bad. I am still engrossed in this story, always fascinated and amused by the grotesque way Wallis Simpson tends to be played in British films. The vitriol she attracts is really something, and I had hoped W.E. would be a film that could set some of that to rest. Maybe it worked, if the boring parts were meant to be a soporific. Otherwise, the film I want to see still needs to be made.


Oh gosh you watched it. I couldn't bear to. I'll watch anything about Wallis Simpson and Edward I have the same compulsion and yet, never, never, does it come off in any way well. Apart from Steven Campbell-Moore's eyes.
Ugh I didn't know about the secondary storyline, it sounds grotesque and what a shame, I have liked Abbey Cornish in other things.
The vitriol she attracts is really something It is fascinating and I'd really love to see the exploration of her role vs monarchy vs the public's role in that coming about.
I don't think British versions can bring themselves to be too nice to any of the "characters" in that particular storyline, they have been "grotesques" as it were for far too long, caricatured on a weekly basis in the press and held aloof so the hauty distance is all you know.
As for Madonna, oh dear dear dear. Still waiting for credibility as a director then. Oh well.
I was so sad about this! It could really have been good, especially if they'd ditched the second story and really developed Wallis and Edward. And I'd give Madonna more credit because some things were done very well (just as a visual fetish movie, I think you'd love the historical scenes - so many close-ups on hands and things!), but she co-wrote the script, so she can't escape blame for that ridiculousness. I wonder if the weight of the press and the historical memory of it were just too much for her to trust herself to focus on the story without the modern distraction. It was an ambitious undertaking, to be sure. I wonder how much further from the time we'll be before something genuine can be made.

Steven Campbell-Moore's eyes should come with a warning label, I swear.