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There have been a lot of mixed reactions to this film. There's a reason for that: it's both good and bad. I didn't enjoy it but staying away from the obvious tendency to judge this film based solely on the fact it's Madonna who's directed/co-wrote it there are some diamonds in the (very) rough.
The film tries to take two story lines which are set in completely different times and places, and merge them into one film. One of these plots are really good, the other really bad. The good one is the story of Edward VIII who abdicated from his place on the throne in order to marry a commoner, Wallis Simpson. The bad one is the story of an ordinary New York woman who's in the process of leaving an abusive relationship. The second story is trashy, melodramatic pulp. Any relation between these two story lines is contrived and every time it cuts between the two, it feels very awkward, forced, meaningless and confusing.
It's a real shame, because the story of the Edward VIII is an extremely interesting one. There's so much there to write about: his controversial lifestyle, marriage to Wallis Simpson, abdication, relationship with George VI and the rest of the royal family not to mention his alleged Nazi sympathies and friendship with Adolf Hitler! As a straight historical drama, this story would be truly riveting and I personally think it deserves a big budget treatment. It could even do well as a glossy romantic drama or a gritty political drama or a mixture of both.
I do appreciate that Madge has tried to tell this story (which has been done in film and TV before) from an alternative perspective: through the eyes of Wallis Simpson. This is a credible idea but the film doesn't focus enough on it. Instead, it's needlessly confused by a boring, ambiguous plot featuring a deluded and emotionally erratic protagonist nobody can relate to.
The film is occasionally historically inaccurate and utterly bizarre in places. There is a point where a news reporter states that Edward is succeeding King George III, when it is in fact King George V (the former died more than a century before). There are also several absurdities and moments of sheer bad taste, most notably a scene where Edward and Wallis are popping pills at a party as they dance to the Sex Pistols in the 1930s! The fact Madonna chose the song 'Pretty Vacant' is probably more fitting than she'll realise. There is a consistent stream of these absurdities which cause serious detriment to the film's tone and coherency as if it wasn't already hard enough to understand.
There is no conclusion to this film either. By the end nothing is resolved, everything becomes wholly ambiguous and no explanation is given as to the meaning or core purpose of the film. Just before the credits role, as the camera pans up from nothingness to yet more nothingness, you're left thinking "what was the point in all of that?" Credit where credit's due though: the film has some nice cinematography. The fashion and costume design is great too. It's visually very good and you can tell there are some people working on this film who know what they're doing, but it's all wasted on a rotten script. The film seems to concentrate on fashion, materialism, aesthetics and stylistic elements more than telling a compelling story. It's just superficial.
For me, the bad outweighs the good, and W.E. appears as nothing more than an opportunistic derivative of a sub-plot from the King's Speech, with potential that would never be realised here. Madonna's film is brash and contrived at best, random and pointless at worst.
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