An arrogant vanity project rendered laughable by its kitschy sycophancy.
This prissy, self-important companion piece to The King’s Speech tells part of the true story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the brassy Baltimore socialite who threw a spanner in the British monarchy by eloping with King Edward VIII (a dashing James D’Arcy) in the late '30s.
His abdication and her public vilification were the hot gossip of the time, but Madonna (making her second outing as co-writer/director) isn’t fussed about contextualising the socio-political ripples of their scandalous affair. Instead, she hotfoots it to the mid '90s, where a fictional Manhattan housewife named Wally (Abbie Cornish) finds a way out of her abusive domestic bell jar courtesy of an ivory-tinkling Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac).
This incessant to-and-fro narrative tiering is imprudent, not least because Wally's plight has a great deal more dramatic merit than that of her cold, razor-taloned counterpart. In escaping her husband's malicious clutches Wally shows considerable guts. By comparison Wallis' actions seem entirely conniving and selfish (although they are validated, somewhat clumsily, by flashbacks of her own domestic agonies). It's all in the name of love, of course, but a love we never made to invest in.
You would be forgiven for expecting that an infamous 20th century love story that rocked an empire might make for compelling cinema. But the maddening extent of Madonna's blundering is such that you won't care whether Wallis and Edward's romance sinks or swims. In fact, during one sickly beachside rendez-vous you'll be praying for an unseasonably strong tide to roar in and drag the whole shoddy mess under.
Madonna's poorly received directorial debut, 2008's Filth and Wisdom, was largely ignored, but there's no avoiding this triumphant wet guff, such is its pungance and so eye-stinging its impact. As far as her film career is concerned, this is a real step back – and that's saying something.
Of its many shortcomings, perhaps the most insulting thing about W.E. is its arrogance. But this serious film, laden with ‘look at me’ visuals – grainy close-ups, excessive soft focus – and reeking of vanity project egotism, is only rendered laughable by its kitschy sycophancy.
Madge takes on a sizzling 20th century love scandal.
Laughably feeble portrait of a complex romance.