Starring: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle, James D’Arcy.
Release Date: January 20th
Perhaps the toughest barrier for any film involving Madonna is the unavoidable fact that it does indeed involve Madonna. Should Madonna ever create a genuinely good film, a testament to its success should be when Madonna’s involvement isn’t its most talked about feature. Sadly, W.E. is not one such film.
Written as two concurrent narratives, Madonna (who co-wrote the script with Alek Keshishian) runs the story of the controversial relationship between American socialite Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), alongside a story of a contemporary New York woman, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), her troubled relationship and her near-obsession with Wallis and Edward.
Though the second narrative is supposed to act as a modern-day parallel, instead it somehow manages to trivialise its subject matter to the point of genuine tedium. Wally’s fascination with the “the twentieth-century’s greatest royal love story” acts as the principal link between the two narrative strands; that and a few ill-fitting parallels including spousal abuse and the fact that both women made sacrifices in their lives. The two storylines are further sewn together by several mawkish scenes wherein Wallis and Wally speak to each other on screen.
The film flits sporadically between the two stories, with the New York plotline managing to be the more uninteresting of the two. Though the cinematography and costumes are truly excellent, often the awkward nature of the writing proves extremely distracting. The most bewildering moment of the film involves Wallis dancing the Charleston with a bald African tribesperson whilst Edward rolls on the floor laughing set to the sneering punk rock of ‘Pretty Vacant’ by the Sex Pistols. What exactly this mess of a scene is supposed to represent is truly unfathomable. The impeccable costume choices actually add some believability to often weak performances, however it often feels as if more attention was paid to the details in the costume department than any other part of the film.
Highlighting so many faults does seem quite unkind, as W.E. isn’t so bad as to be irredeemable. Any positives to be drawn are not concessions; they are genuinely praiseworthy aspects. That said, the fact that the best part of the film is an unremarkable new Madonna track that plays about a minute into the credits tells its own story.
In a Nutshell: Madonna’s sophomore attempt at directing is not as horrendous as it could have been, but still has few redeeming features.