There are always at least two sides to every story. In the real life romantic tale of King Edward’s VIII’s abdication of the British throne for the woman he loved, American divorcée Wallis Simpson, Simpson is often portrayed as manipulative to Edward’s pliable nature. The fact that his brother had to then take over the throne is memorably portrayed in “The King’s Speech”. “W.E.” gives the twist, the point of view of Wallis and how difficult the relationship was ON HER, from start to end.
The big surprise in this film is that it is co-written and co-produced by Madonna. Love her or hate her, she has an artist’s soul and a flair for theater that certainly comes through in the film. Why “W.E.”? It is, supposedly, the abbreviation Wallis came up with for “Wallis” and “Edward” and the way they lovingly signed their joint name in love letters.
Wallis’ story is told in flashbacks, mirrored by Wally Winthrop, a young woman who, like her mother and grandmother were obsessed with Wallis Simpson, even naming Wally after her. Abbie Cornish stands out as the beautiful, sad, longing Wally whose marital troubles and emotions run parallel to her idol’s. She even conjures up visions of Wallace for comfort and guidance.
The storyline is confusing at first with the two Wallace’s and reflections on Wallace Simpson’s first of three marriages (her first two husbands
look a lot alike). Once you get into the initial groove of who is who and which time periods you are slipping back and forth into, you are hooked. The pacing is very good and you get sucked in easily. The only annoying thing remaining, and it was a big one for me, is the cinematography. I know it’s supposed to be very artsy to do tight, fast close-ups of things and 360 degree pans of people and places to create a sense of urgency, confusion and fear but c’mon! Let the actors and the scenery do some of that work all on their own without making our heads spin.
Cigarette smoking and its sensual, curling wafts almost become a character in both storylines, evoking the suffocation of the situations in the lives of these two women. The clothing and room interiors are gorgeous. The music is perfectly suited. Madonna’s behind-the-scenes work is impressive and gives credence to this next chapter in her career.
W.E. is Written by Madonna and Alek Keshishian, produced by Madonna and Kris Thykier and stars Abbie Cornish, Oscar Isaac, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Dormer, Richard Coyle, James Fox and Laurence Fox.
The film opens today.