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With: Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy
Running time: 119 minutes
FIRST, the Bernard Matthews news: despite the two stars, it's not a turkey. There are some fine performances, a couple of inspired moments, and the soundtrack, as you might expect, is a belter.
The problem is that W.E., made by the woman who once delighted in pushing the limits of acceptability, is an astonishingly, tush-achingly, tame film. A movie that seems like it was made by someone out to prove what a good, dutiful girl she was as a filmmaker rather than a director out to shake up a wearily familiar tale.
Madonna has assembled all the components of a movie – a story (two stories in fact), dialogue, setting, actors – but she puts them together in such an uninspired way. Instead of an outrageously lavish or radical retelling of the Wallis and Edward yarn, which might have at least been a giggle, Madonna has made something disappointingly ordinary.
Her take on the story is that this is a tale of a grand love affair in which the object of the king's affection, the woman for whom he gave up the throne, ends up with the sticky end of the lollipop. Andrea Riseborough duly plays Wallis (inset) as a whipsmart operator and clothes-closet feminist, with James D'Arcy playing Edward VIII as the naive prince who sometimes struggled against the confines of his role. Both actors do heroically well to add nuance and wit to dialogue that creaks like a Windsor Palace door.
As the story of Wallis and Edward plays out, another tale is taking place in modern-day Manhattan. Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) is an unhappy rich girl, trapped in a bad marriage. Wally, who has recently given up her job at Sotheby's to be a full-time wife, handily has a Wallis Simpson obsession and Sotheby's, even more conveniently, is having a sale of Windsor goods and chattels.
Can Wally find a happy ending? All is revealed in a clunky fashion over the next two hours, with a couple of risible moments, the appearance of an actor playing Mohammed Al-Fayed chief among them, thrown in. What doesn't raise a laugh in America is sure to raise eyebrows and sniggers in bolshier old Britain.
Occasionally, as in a scene where Wallis dances for her prince while Pretty Vacant plays on the (excellent) soundtrack by Abel Korzeniowski, we get a glimpse of what might have been had Madonna given in more to her inner Sofia Coppola, as seen in the latter's version of Marie Antoinette, and been less reverential towards her characters. Elsewhere, it's match cuts a go-go with Wallis in the 1930s, for instance, putting down her cocktail shaker and Wally in modern times picking it up at Sotheby's auction. All very predictable. Even the sex scenes, such as they are, are about as racy as a lingerie ad.
The two stories of Wallis and Wally are supposed to add an extra dimension to the tale, but they only succeed in slowing an already sluggish film. It would have been better to stay with Simpson and Edward in the 1930s and let rip than continually pause to delve into Wally's dreary modern woes. However you cut it, trying for a baby really doesn't have the same dramatic wow factor as bringing the monarchy to the brink of collapse.
But that's W.E., seeing a smaller picture when it should have gone big, opting for the glossy, pop star take on Wallis and Edward when it should have gone punk and political.
ACTING AT THE COURT OF QUEEN MADGE: PAGES 18 & 19