In 1998, an auction of the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor causes great excitement. For one woman, Wally Winthrop, it has much more meaning. Wally becomes obsessed by their historic love story. As she learns more about the sacrifices involved, Wally gains her own courage to find happiness. Written by
Don't pass judgement on this one until you've seen it.
"W.E." had one hell of an uphill battle. Not only is it a period piece, but the film is also written and directed by the one woman in the world that makes people pass judgement before even experiencing her work. That woman is Madonna.
The film tells the tale of the infamously scandalous affair of King Edward VIII (aka David) and Wallis Simpson for whom, in the 1930s, he gave up everything for, even abdicating the throne of England. Being a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson was a woman the monarchy would never accept, and because of that, David left everything behind for love. The film concurrently takes us back to 1998 and Wally Winsthrop, a woman who was named after Ms. Simpson by her Wallis-obsessed mother and who also finds herself in a marriage that is not living up to the magic she expected it to be, a fact which is brought more to life by the flirtations of a Russian security guard she encounters at an auction of the Windsor Estate at Sotheby's.
I can honestly say that, despite being an enormous fan of most of Madonna's artistic endeavours, I was not sure how this film would play out. But you know what? It's a good film. First of all, it takes the perspective of Wallis Simpson in telling the first story, which goes against the norm. Secondly, the interweaving of the two completely different time periods is extremely well done, incredibly edited, and manages to keeps you invested in both stories equally. And most surprisingly, it was an entertaining history lesson: Not only do you learn of this hugely publicized affair but the film, in a way, is almost like a prequel to last year's powerhouse, "The King's Speech," as that film focuses on Bertie, David's brother, who had to take over the throne once David renounced it.
The film is not perfect, but as Madonna's second attempt at directing, you have to give her credit. Something many critics just refuse to do. No, the script is far from genius, but it's far from awful. The film is visually beautiful to watch and the integration of regular filming and documentary-style graininess makes for an interesting watch. Then there is the exquisite costumes for which this film is nominated for an Academy Award...and has a good chance at winning. And the performances, all of which are good. Andrea Risborough ("Made in Dagenham," "Happy Go Lucky") gives a strong turn, if not slightly off kilter at times, as Wallis Simpson. James D'Arcy is at times whimsical yet stoic as the terribly handsome King Edward. Abbie Cornish ("Limitless") is close to heartbreaking as the suffering Wally Winthrop and Richard Coyle ("Prince of Persia") gives a great performance as Wally's emotionally absent husband. And then there is Oscar Isaac, also in the Oscar-nominated "Drive," as the incredibly handsome and sweet Russian who perks up each time Wally is around.
No, "W.E." is not brilliant, but it's far better than you might expect, Madonna proving to be a far better director than anyone might give her credit for. And if you just love her for her music, the Golden-Globe winning "Masterpiece" plays along the closing credits. Although I have always preferred her musical endeavours over her cinematic attempts, this attempt is one she can definitely be proud of.
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