Wallis and Edward’s love story was beautiful but one-dimensional
by Gina Macdonald
Madonna has had a long and eventful career filled with elaborate costumes, staging, and controversy. It comes as no surprise then that her latest film W.E. was much the same.
The film’s tagline: “Their affair ignited a scandal. Their passion brought down an empire,” refers to the love story between King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) and the woman he was obsessed with at the time, Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). Simpson was a married American social climber who influenced the king so much that he abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to be with her. As a modern parallel to this historical controversy, director-writer Madonna and co-screenwriter Alek Keshishian introduce Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), whose obsession with Wallis’ story brings her to the 1998 Sotheby’s auction of their belongings.
The film follows an absolutely riveting portrayal of both their stories in a way that only the Material Girl could have produced. It is riveting in the sense that the costumes and the sets were breathtaking, but it leaves the dialogue, the characters, and the storylines as not much to be desired.
Riseborough’s depiction of Wallis Simpson definitely carried the film, and her delivery of Simpson’s witty, candid dialogue was perfect. Meanwhile, it was probably by no fault of hers, but Cornish’s Wally Winthrop is one-dimensional and wooden, even while using Wallis’ story to leave her abusive husband for Sotheby’s Russian security guard Evgeni (Oscar Isaac).
The parallels between the two are exemplified when Wally, wandering through the Sotheby’s auction for about a century, sees a piece of the royal pair’s artefacts, closes her eyes, and has a flashback to a moment in the 1930s. These moments often end with Wallis and Wally sharing a time-bending conversation about Wallis’ sacrifices for Edward and vice versa.
Other weird scenes include Edward and Wallis’ Benzedrine-induced dance party to the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” and Wally’s shock when Wallis’ apparition tells her to “get a life.” However, stunning visuals paired with a beautiful soundtrack by Abel Korzeniowski serve to make the film more than bearable, so if you have a free afternoon, it might be worth making the trip to the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinema, the only theatre showing W.E. in Toronto.