Saturday, 21 January 2012



This is a baffling movie on a number of levels, not the least of which is "Why?". Madonna's second film as a director (the first, Filth And Wisdom, was back in 2008 but still remains unreleased in the UK) is narratively and musically all over the place. I don't know the strictest details of its historical accuracies - whether they met at this castle or that hotel and wore those colours - but it's a fair bet that even at a house party full of chinless toffs on champagne spiked with Benzedrine, Mrs Simpson didn't gyrate to Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols while in front of a Charlie Chaplin movie. Nor did Wallace and Edward dance to Henry Mancini's Lujon at a time when the composer was still in short trousers. Using anachronistic source music is of course a long-standing Hollywood tradition - A Knight's Tale is set in the 14th century but stuffed full of songs by Queen, David Bowie and AC/DC - but it leaps out in something that's presumably designed as a proper period piece.

Narratively W.E. is a mess as well: it filters the famous story of Wallis Simpson's (Andrea Riseborough) scandalous relationship with the heir to the British throne (James D'Arcy) through the marital breakdown of a woman in New York in 1998 who just happens to have a similar name and an unexplained fixation on Wallis. Wally (Abbie Cornish) is neglected, cheated on and beaten by her charmless dick of a husband but finds solace with a Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac) at Sotheby's where there's an exhibition and auction of Wallis and Edward memorabilia. This intersplicing might have worked if the two stories were even vaguely alike, but they never match up, so it ends up as two completely different movies - one a present-day romantic drama and one essentially an episode of Downton Abbey - and someone else is switching channels between them at random intervals; sometimes a few scenes, sometimes one single shot.

So what was it all about? Who's it aimed at? What's the demographic? If it had been up to me, I'd have ditched the modern stuff entirely and turned it into a camp knockabout full of snappy one-liners, knob gags and posh buffoons falling over: Carry On Up the Monarchy or something. If you're going to make a film about alleged Nazi sympathisers, go mad. Go all the way and have everyone cavorting about like they're in Allo Allo or some kind of Mel Brooks extravaganza. But in the wake of The King's Speech (the events of which obviously overlap with this movie) that would probably be a difficult sell even in an era of lame Wayans Brothers parody movies.

But Madonna hasn't down that. Instead we're left with this melange of two completely different movies glued together, one historically questionable and the other essentially unbelievable. If she's have stuck with one of the stories - either one, it doesn't really matter which - W.E. probably wouldn't have been too bad, but it's the interlocking between the two that, for me at least, really doesn't work. And it's not even funny, which could perhaps have been a saving grace.


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