Movie Review - W.E.

A year prior to this film's theatrical release, The King's Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture. The King's Speech was about how King George VI overcame his speech impediment in the 1930s. One factoid is that he was not supposed to be king. George's older brother was supposed to be and in fact was the king. His brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne. Edward basically called it quits and walked away.

In The King's Speech, this factoid is briefly addressed but then overlooked. Madonna's W.E. doesn't overlook but focuses on it. Madonna wrote and directed W.E. and it's about why King Edward VIII gave up his crown. In The King's Speech, Guy Pearce plays King Edward and exclaims, "I must marry her." The her was Wallis Simpson, Edward's soon-to-be divorced, American mistress with whom he fell in love. In that movie, it was portrayed as if King Edward were given an ultimatum from the Prime Minister because the church or the people wouldn't approve of the relationship.

Pearce is a good actor, but that movie never explains why he loved her or what compelled him to renounce the thrown for her. Madonna's conceit in W.E., which stands for Wallis and Edward, is to explore those questions. She seems to want to show us why he loved her and what compelled him to renounce the thrown. The problem is that I don't think that Madonna really gives us any more insight into the two lovers in her two hour movie than what was given in the two minutes that we saw of Wallis and Edward in The King's Speech.

Madonna directs this film very well. The cinematography has a beautiful flow and poetry to it. The editing gives the film a pacing to it that could have been almost action-oriented, certainly akin to a lot of contemporary music videos. The production design is also quite lush and extravagant, and not in a way that one would expect in a film about royalty. The King's Speech was obviously lush and gorgeous, but here, like Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, Madonna accentuates the materialism, not in a way that's bad but as a way of making her film more sensual, and I was never bored by it. Madonna kept me constantly, visually, engaged.

Where the movie loses me is that I don't believe it's very well written. It doesn't provide much more insight into the Wallis and Edward love affair than what we got in The King's Speech. The reason is because instead of staying with Wallis and Edward as they live their lives in the 1930s and 40s, Madonna intercuts with a tortured love affair occurring over 70 years later, presumably in 2011.

Oscar Isaac and Abbie Cornish in "W.E."
Abbie Cornish who made a bit of a splash starring opposite Heath Ledger in Candy (2006), as well as in Jane Campion's critically-acclaimed Bright Star, plays Wally Winthrop, a young woman married to a very wealthy yet highly-abusive man who might be cheating on her. Wally visits Sotheby's in New York regularly to see the museum-like exhibit of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While there, she meets and starts to fall in love with the Sotheby's security guard, Evgeni, played by Oscar Isaac who shared the screen with Cornish in Sucker Punch.

Wally imagines what life was like for Wallis, and we then see snippets of that life, and when I say snippets, I mean it. The scenes here are all brief and quick. It feels like a series of vignettes. The love affair just breezes by. It's all too superficial, not substantive. I don't think Madonna answers any deep questions about Wallis and Edward. We jump back-and-forth between Wallis and Edward, the W.E. of the past, and, Wally and Evgeni, the W.E. of the present. It's structured similarly to Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia (2009), but the scale appears tipped toward the W.E. of the present.

We come to care about the W.E. of the present more than we do the W.E. of the past, which is a loss because the past was what was supposed to drive the narrative. The past hardly even informs the narrative. Aside from the same initials, there is barely any connective tissue here. I did enjoy the performances, particularly of Cornish and Isaac, as the W.E. of the present, but also Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy who respectively play the W.E. of the past.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for language and themes.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.


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