Madonna spins the historical King Edward/Wallis Simpson yarn into a cross-generational tale of emotional regrets and steamy illicit desire. While having the misfortune of being unfairly trounced by the press last Fall, it’s not that bad. A flawed but sometimes impressive film, consistent to Madonna's entire career both in music and on film. Bold strokes of creativity, in-your-face, passionate and unapologetic for its message, which shuttles between inspiration and pretension.
W.E. (2012) dir. Madonna
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaacs, Richard Coyle
By Alan Bacchus
W stands for Wallis, E stands for Edward, which makes this picture about the star-crossed romance of King Edward VII and Wallis Simpson, who shocked the world in 1936 when the King was forced to abdicate the thrown because of their disapproved marriage. After The King’s Speech, W.E. makes for a decent companion piece to the more conventional and accessible Oscar winner. Madonna’s film is unique to itself, playing out two parallel storylines – one, the real life historical story of the King and his American lover, and a modern day fictionalized plot of an American woman stuck in an unhappy relationship who finds a strong attraction to a handsome and exotic museum security guard.
Though unconventional, Madonna seems to be influenced by the similarly structured Red Violin, also repeated recently with Café de Flore, films which intersect spiritually connecting human emotions and identities with smatterings of existentialism. As we see the first meetings, courtship and political shitstorm revolving the relationship between King Edward (D’Arcy) and then-married American socialite, Wallis Simpson (Riseborough), we see Wally (Abbie Cornish) in the present, a depressed New Yorker obsessing about a new Edward/Simpson exhibit at a local museum. Not only does her name resemble Simpson’s, but she’s been drawn to the story for her whole life.
Her emotionally abusive husband suddenly tells her he doesn’t want to have kids, which sends a ripple through their relationship and spins Wally's mind out of whack. A strong attraction develops with a Russian museum security guard (Oscar Isaacs), played with the type of exotic allure we expect from Madonna.
As the yarn unspools, Madonna uses artful, though not unconventional, editing techniques to weave her metaphysical connections of the stories. Numerous montage scenes overplay the drama, though in small doses Abel Korzeniowski's music is hypnotic and entrancing. Unfortunately, the pop sensibilities of Madonna don’t quite match up to the subtlety required to make a story like this work. It’s a delicate brush she needs to use, and her hand just isn’t steady enough.
As an American ex-pat under the critical eye of the discriminating British press and public, Madonna is perhaps the right person to tell this story. But ironically her bombast persona and overly-publicized career and private life have made everyone hypercritical of new ventures such as this one, which unjustly helped cause the demise of this picture.
W/E is available on Blu-ray and DVD from EOne Home Entertainment in Canada.