Monday, June 11, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—W.E. (2011) *½

R, 119 min.
Director: Madonna
Writers: Madonna, Alek Kekishian
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle, David Harbour

Pop singer Madonna’s sophomore effort as a feature film director is certainly more ambitious than her first film “Filth and Wisdom”. While that film concentrated on the British subculture of prostitution and pornography, “W.E.” focuses on the upper crust of British society. She deigns to tell the story of one of Britain’s greatest and most controversial love stories. I’m inclined to think she might’ve pulled it off were she not tripped up by her own airs of pretention.

“W.E.” are the first initials of Wallis Simpson and Edward of Windsor, the King of England who abdicated his throne to be with the woman he loved. Had Madonna been satisfied to stick with their fascinating story, she shows the skills to have pulled it off. Instead, as co-writer and director, she chooses to tell a parallel story of a modern Manhattan aristocrat and her failing marriage.  This woman’s story is entirely unnecessary to Wallis Simpson’s.

Madonna’s camera is elegant. Her production design is sleek and captures well the period of the 1930s during which Wallis and Edward’s romance blossomed. The modern story doesn’t seem to exist in a real world with real people. They are all perfect versions of themselves, but I’d be willing to let that go if it wasn’t all so boring to watch. Plus, it only serves to distract from her true subject.

Throughout the movie Madonna and her modern female character claim to only want to tell Wallis’ side of the story. Everyone hears about what Edward gave up for her, but no one ever tells of what she sacrificed for him. OK, what did she sacrifice? We see her first failed abusive marriage. We see the second husband easily agree to let Edward have her. We’re told that her place in the public eye was as a spoiler of the throne, but it’s never really shown to us. I think we learn more of Edward than we do of Wallis throughout the course of the film. Finally, our modern heroine reads some of Wallis’ private correspondences and we discover the aspects of her life that were difficult, but by that point her story has been overshadowed by Edward’s and this Manhattanite’s, and quite frankly, I can’t see the parallels.

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