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June 2, 2013

W.E. (2011)
Director: Madonna
Actors: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy


Synopsis: New York, 1998. Unhappy trophy wife, Wally (Abbie Cornish), finds solace and inspiration in the Wallis Simpson/King Edward collection at Sotheby’s. As she scours the paraphernalia, Wallis Simpson’s relationship with Edward is shown in flashback.

Review: Interesting but ultimately flawed, Madonna’s ode to Wallis Simpson suffers from a far, far too busy cinematographic grammar, and also a very clumsy and unclear framing device where a Manhattan ‘kept woman’ in 1998 gets an inordinate amount of screen-time while her story reflects back on to Wallis and King Edward’s.

Not that I advocate the tyranny of coherent, streamlined narratives – and in theory applaud Madonna’s aspirations to an impressionistic, allusive story built around two different timeframes (à la The Hours) – but her de facto contemporary Wally sequence really is too weak an informant on the main Wallis Simpson section. While Madonna seems to be positing the Wallis/Edward section as counterpoint to the commonly-held notion that Edward was the only one making a sacrifice for the union, I don’t see how it equates to Wally’s very bourgeois dilemmas of marriage to an unloving doctor (which she presumably entered into wilfully), her IVF attempts to become a mother at only 28, and her obsession with Wallis. The film is perhaps an ironic exposé of how personal Madonna’s interest is in the very sort of privileged, monied and transnational lives of the two lead women.

Madonna also sullies any potential message in her film through a truly frenetic, mish-mash of filmic constructs. It’s a grossly over-edited film, its musical score is far too excessive (stealing moments from the far superior In the Mood for Love), and the switch between actual archive footage of Wallis and Edward, mock newsreel pastiches, then the main fictionalisation, has no concentric purpose. (June 2013)

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