ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT FILMORIA
W.E. is a double layered romantic drama which focuses on the love affair between Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson and a modern day romance between a Russian security guard and a married woman.
It is easy to see why Madonna – an American woman who desperately tried to be accepted by the English people – would be drawn to the story of Wallace Simpson and Edward VIII (affectionately called David) the man who gave up the throne of England for the woman he loved. What is harder to understand is why she decided to mix the modern story with the period one.
The film jumps and cuts between Wallace Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and Wally (Abbie Cornish) an unhappily married woman living in New York. Wally’s husband William (Richard Coyle) is rarely home, and she spends her time walking the halls of Sotheby’s auction house, gazing at the collection of Wallace and David’s (James D’Arcy) treasures.
As with most of the cast, Abbie Cornish is fine in the role of Wally. She has a sweet and gentle relationship with the Russian man she falls in love with, that contrasts starkly with her domestic situation. As a whole, the cast are gently directed, and play their roles more as though a suggestion was made to them, rather than a strong directorial choice. The exception to this is Andrea Riseborough as Wallace Simpson. Riseborough inhabits the character of Simpson, and gives a subtle but inspired performance. She is not enough the save the film, however.
W.E. floats between storylines, giving an idea of both. Most audience members have an idea of the story of Mrs Simpson and a superficial introduction to the character suffices. Wally Winthrop is an entirely fictional character, however, and we never really understand why she married so young, and why she put up with her abusive husband for so long. Both stories are touched on, but neither is examined in any great detail.
It is obvious that Madonna sees herself as the character played by Abbie Cornish, and her fascination with Wallace Simpson is an obvious one to understand, but the blending of these two stories leads to jumps, cuts and anachronisms that leave the audience bewildered. Madonna also tried to develop a clear directorial style, but the overuse of music in the film as well as some strange cinematography and characters moving in time to the beat of the soundtrack leaves W.E looking like a music video and containing all the substance of one. At one point, Wallace Simpson dances to Pretty Vacant by The Sex Pistols, an interesting choice of song, as it sums up W.E.; pretty, but ultimately, vacant.
In all, W.E. is a bit of a mess. Visual is substituted for story, but unlike last year’s The Tree of Life, the story is not replaced with anything meaningful, leaving the film feeling vapid. Perhaps Madonna would be best returning to short films to find her voice as a director. There is no doubt that there is an interesting film somewhere within W.E., the problem is trying to figure out what it is.