PLOT: The story of King Edward VIIIs romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborourgh)- contrasted with the modern-day woes of an unhappily married Sothebys buyer, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) who has a lifelong fascination with the pair.
REVIEW: After missing W.E.- Madonnas long-awaited passion project that depicts the Wallis Simpson scandal, which saw King Edward abdicate the throne in favor of his brother (who got his own biopic last year with THE KINGS SPEECH) at the Toronto International Film Festival, Ive finally caught up with W.E. on the eve of its belated release into North American theaters.
The buzz coming out of Venice and TIFF was pretty noxious, and sure enough, I found W.E. to be an absolute mess. I really dont know what possessed Madonna to try and turn this story into a film. Wallis & Edward were a controversial pair to be sure- and might have even been closet Nazi sympathizers (which is totally ignored in the film save for a throwaway line that says this was gossip). Their post-royal life was spent mainly in exile, amongst the idle rich, and in addition to THE KINGS SPEECH, which struck me as a pretty fair depiction; the couple was also portrayed in the recent BBC miniseries, ANY HUMAN HEART. In fact, in that under-seen, but rather good telefilm, I thought Gillian Anderson gave a pretty definitive performance in the role, although it was far from sympathetic.
W.E. is obviously totally sympathetic to Simpson, with Madonna going on record as saying that she identifies with her. Indeed, in the lead Riseborough is quite Madonna-like, from the way she carries herself, to the biting humor, and- what I suppose is Madonnas own view of herself, as being with a strong backbone, and a noble side. Roseborough has gotten a lot of buzz off the movie, and shes good, although its her work in another recent film, SHADOW DANCER, that I think is the real judge of her talent.
As the king, James DArcy is pretty and bland, and pales alongside Guy Pearces portrayal in THE KINGS SPEECH. To me, Edward seemed a vacuous bore, but then again- maybe thats the point. In the B-story, which muddles the film quite heavily, with we get the beautiful Abbie Cornish as a Sothebys buyer obsessed with the couple, and struggling with the demands of her abusive, imperious, and impotent husband, while carrying on a flirtation with a Russian security guard- played by Oscar Issac. In fact, its only in the scenes between Issac and Cornish that the film really seems to gel, due mostly to the undeniable chemistry between the two.
W.E. strives to be a lush, artistic, non-linear telling of the Wallis Simpson saga, but Madonnas efforts to be different, mostly in the use of contemporary music and a weird framing device, are more distracting than anything. Overall, I found this pretty to look at, but totally pretentious and very, very boring. Its not the worst film Ive seen lately (that would be LAY THE FAVORITE), but its certainly not the type of film thats suddenly going to make Madonna a top director. If anything, the film is more interesting for how Madonna seems to project herself on to Simpson, than anything else. Its curious, but if youre a Madonna fan, Im sure its worth seeing. Everyone else- not so much
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