Whether you buy that Wallis Warfield Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and Edward VIII of England (James D’Arcy) had the “romance of the century” or not, their story is certainly more interesting and involving than the framing story director Madonna uses in W./E.. Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a bored and neglected wife of a successful New York psychiatrist (Richard Coyle), idolizes Wallis to the point of obsession. She even imagines herself having conversations with her namesake. The film cuts back and forth between the two women’s lives, drawing parallels — especially concentrating on their unhappiness with abusive husbands or failed attempts at pregnancy.
W./E. is directed by Madonna and co-written by Madonna and Alek Keshishian, who directed Madonna in music videos “This Used To Be My Playground,” and “I’ll Remember” as well as her documentary Madonna – Truth or Dare.
[Wallis and Edward vacation in the south of France]
King Edward VIII met Wallis Simpson in the early 1930s. They were soon inseperable, and the King appeared frequently with her in public, although she was still married at the time to her second husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson. The King was determined to marry her, and when Wallis filed for divorce it caused a nationwide crisis. Edward decided to abdicate the British throne in 1936, and the two retired to France and became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Madonna tries to whitewash (or have her fangirl heroine Wally) shrug off rumors of Wallis’s and Edward’s Nazi sympathies. If the pair were not totally sympathetic to Hitler’s cause, they certainly weren’t opposed to visiting Germany or meeting with Hitler.
[Wally gets to go backstage at Sotheby’s]
Like the similarly constructed Julie and Julia, the film could have done without the contemporary storyline and just concentrated on Wallis. It also doesn’t help that Madonna has made Wally dour, dark, and drippy. She may have a rotter for a husband, but he is such a cartoon villain that the audience isn’t made to care. Her growing flirtation with a security guard (Oscar Isaac) at a Sotheby’s exhibit of the Duke and Duchess’s personal effects is also predictable and as lacking of energy as Wally, barring one nice scene where he gives her a private tour of the exhibit and a dance. But one scene isn’t enough to wonder why, with all the research into Wallis that Madonna reportedly did, she felt compelled to tack on Wally’s story.
Where the film does excel are its visuals. The costumes, by Arianne Phillips are flawless. Vintage items are mixed with reproductions of Wallis’s clothesand her legendary love of jewelry is also showcased. The make-up, down to period-style manicures, is also spot on. The cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski is also beautiful, highlighting the polished edges of objects and furniture in both time frames.
The music also suits the overall atmosphere of the film. Madonna enlisted composer Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man), to compose the soundrack. She also contributed a song, “Masterpiece,” which won Best Original Song at the 69th Golden Globe Awards, and plays over the end credits.
[The Duke and Duchess of Windsor]
W./E. touches on the perils of celebrity, a subject with which Madonna is all too familiar. But what happened to the romance of the century after Edward abdicated the throne is only hinted at, as Madonna’s interest seems far more invested in Wally than Wallis.
The 3 disc Blu-ray includes Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy. It has a running time of 119 minutes, in widescreen format, with 1080p video resolution and an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film looks terrific on a large-scale HD television screen. Scene selection and subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. Sound is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and dialogue sounds crisp and clear. There is also a featurette included on the making of W./E., featuring Madonna and the cast and crew.
W./E. is clearly a labor of love, but the overall tone is more depressing than female empowerment. Maybe Madonna should have looked more closely at a quote from Wallis herself, “You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.”