Director: Madonna | 115 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Abbie Cornish, Natalie Dormer, Oscar Isaac, Laurence Fox, Annabelle Wallis, James Fox, Richard Coyle, Natalie Gal, Haluk Bilginer, David Harbor, Christina Chong, Anna Skellern, Lola Leon
Briefly featured in the Oscar-laden “The King’s Speech” (2010), Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom Britain’s King Edward VIII abdicated. The American was not loved by her new in-laws, to say the least. The people didn’t like her either. Not only did she come “from outside”, she was not of noble birth and was married twice before; there were also the wildest rumors about the couple. Their relationship is said to have sadomasochistic traits. In addition, it was alleged that Wallis was sympathetic to the Nazis. Thus Wallis Simpson became a beloved prey of the tabloid press, who would haunt her for years to come. Perhaps Madonna recognizes herself in her. The Queen of Pop has been fascinated by Wallis for years, and it should come as no surprise that the American socialite takes center stage in La Ciccone’s second film, “W.E.” (2012).
In 1998 Madonna attended an auction of items from the private collection of Wallis and Edward (often referred to as David). It is precisely this auction that is taken as the starting point here. In “W.E.” she lets the present and past intermingle. In the present we are introduced to Wally (Abbie Cornish), a young woman who struggles with her broken marriage to the unreliable psychiatrist William (Richard Coyle) and seeks comfort in her fascination with Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), whom she also once loved. was named. Coincidentally, an auction of items from Wallis is imminent and Wally leaves every opportunity to admire the collection and dream away with the beautiful items. While she fantasizes, the past comes to life and we are introduced to Wallis and Edward (James D’Arcy). We see how the two meet and are almost instantly attracted to each other, even though Wallis is still married to her second husband at the time. When their relationship can no longer be denied, Edward – who was crowned king after the death of his father in 1936 – is given the choice by the prime minister: the throne or the girl. Edward does not seem to have to think too long about it and opts for Wallis, after which they spend the rest of their lives in France as exiles.
“W.E.” is an ambitious project that Madonna has embraced with full conviction. It is therefore a shame that her undoubtedly good intentions barely come true. The film is messy and unbalanced and especially excels visually. But the stunning sets and costumes (which deserved an Oscar nomination) cannot mask the emptiness of the story. Because it remains unclear what exactly Madonna, who is also responsible for the script with Alek Kashishian, wants to say with her story. Initially she seems to want to make a feminist pamphlet, but over time she gradually flattens that approach, until at the end nothing remains of the heroine she was at the beginning. Fortunately, the characters are still saved by the fine performances of the actors. Andrea Riseborough in particular fulfills her role well and knows how to translate the mysticism of Wallis Simpson perfectly to the silver screen. It is only a pity that the scenario also falls short here and we never really discover what concerns her. Wallis and Edward, however, are much better off than Wally, who hangs together from clichés and is unable to create any depth. The fact that she is also “rescued” by a Russian guard (Oscar Isaac) who is too good to be true does not make things any better.
A fascinating portrait could undoubtedly be made of the intriguing Wallis Simpson, if a good director had taken the lead. But Madonna falls seriously short. She still has a lot to learn not only as a director, but also as a screenwriter. She knows enough about glitter & glamor, so there is little to say about the stylish, opulent decoration. For the music she hired the acclaimed Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski (“A Serious Man”, 2008). His bombastic score is sometimes a bit too lavish, but it fits perfectly in the “costumed ball” around Wallis and Edward. Often wa Even the camerawork is more than decent. But in terms of storytelling and content, “W.E.” really rattles too much, making Madonna’s second film nothing more than a clear case of “style over substance”.