Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy as Wallis and Edward (W.E.)
W.E. (U.K., 2011) directed by Madonna, 114 minutes
September 13, 2011, Visa Screening Room (Elgin), 2:30pm

I was prepared to dislike this film ... very prepared. But it did charm me despite my dislike of Wallis Simpson and the sometime antics of its director. But I have a contrary nature. The more critics seemed to trash the film the more disposed I grew to see it.

Set in 1998, New Yorker Wally Winthrop, played by the lovely Australian actress Abbie Cornish last seen in Jane Campion's Bright Star, channels her loneliness and desire for real passion in her troubled marriage into an obsessive interest in Wallis Simpson (expertly portrayed by Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), more commonly known as David to his intimates. Wallis Simpson was an American social­ite and twice divorced divorcee who beguiled the future king and whose courtship prompted a constitutional crisis in England. David abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis.

The story shifts between the life of the modern day Wally and Wallis Simpson's relationship with the King. Wally haunts a pre-auction Sotheby exhibit of Wallis' effects - charmed by her exquisite clothes, jewellery and personal items. There she meets Evgeni, a handsome, gentle, Russian-American security guard (the red hot Oscar Isaac) who has recently lost his wife. It becomes a ritual to visit the exhibit in the wake of her lonely nights as her doctor husband is rarely around and she suspects him of being both unfaithful and unwilling to have a child with her.

Cornish is wonderful - striking the right note of wonderment and and romantic naivete. Wallis inhabits her daydreams, speaks to her, reprimands her, consoles her, even snapping at her at one point: "This is no fairy tale!" and "Get a life!" sounding very much like the Material Girl herself. It's a lovely touch - as the historical figure comes to play a nurturing role in the life of this unhappy, frightened young woman.

The English actress Riseborough, playing an American, is captivating too - I finally see (through this actress) the possible charm of this Simpson woman who, as is pointedly repeated, lacked beauty and social status prior to her second marriage to Ernest Simpson. 

Despite the protestations of the film goer to my left, after the film, that it sometimes reminded him of a perfume advertisement, I enjoyed the spectacle. As you can imagine, Madonna has an exquisite eye for clothes, design, the physical set up of each room and scene and the particulars of the attires of both women. At the press conference she talked about how she liked to physically lay her hands on each woman before she shot the scenes.

It is gorgeous and beguiling to look at but a little more truth about her political beliefs would have leavened this feast for the eyes. My biggest concern is the lightly passed over issue of Wallis and David's fascistic leanings. Madonna has said that these were merely unproved rumours although I would love to know how she reached this conclusion.

Anne Sebba, Wallis Simpson's first female biographer has said: "She's really quite a hard person to like, but I do think she deserves to be understood. No person could be all the vile things she's accused of being: a spy, a witch, a whore. The establishment put such heavy pressure on the image of Wallis that I knew she was ripe for a revisionist version." Mrs. Simpson, your time has come.

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