Thursday, November 1, 2012

W.E. (2011)

Wallis Simpson: Darling, they can't hurt you if you don't let them.
~from W.E (2011)
I don't care for the work of Madonna, as a rule. I never have, not even back in the 1980's when she was young and popular. I don't like her for the same reasons I don't like blasphemy or vulgarity. I was therefore  pleasantly surprised when I saw Madonna's film W.E. I was surprised and happy that someone capable of so much ugliness could also be capable of beauty. W.E is a film of subtle loveliness; each scene crafted with a stunning play of light and color. The romance of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson is presented in a most original fashion for while showing the irresistible nature of the love affair, it also shows the downside of the relationship, and there were many downsides.

 Let me just say that I never saw the David/Wallis liaison as particularly romantic; it always seemed seedy to me, especially since it involved both a dereliction of duty and compulsive adultery. I find George VI and Queen Elizabeth to be the hero and heroine of a truly great love story, for they stood together with their country in the midst of disaster, while David and Wallis were picnicking in the South of France or sunning themselves in the Bahamas. What Madonna does is carefully yet searingly underline the despair and emptiness that was the lot of David and Wallis, who became a prince and princess without a country, without a family, with nothing but each other and their legend.

Onto the story of Edward the VIII and Wallis Simpson is spliced a secondary story about a desperate modern woman in a morbid situation. Her name is Wally because she is named after Wallis Simpson. Like her mother before her, she is obsessed with the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Her life is so empty that she looks to Wallis and David as examples of how to live and I must say that compared to young Wally,  Mrs. Simpson appears to have it all together.

As The Telegraph says:
 Madonna (who also co-scripted with Alex Keshishian) has fashioned a split-level story of two couples: the Windsors, and the growing attraction between Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a contemporary Manhattan woman, and Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a handsome Russian working security at Sotheby’s.
Wally, married to an eminent shrink who isn’t above slapping her around, desperately wants children. (He doesn’t.) Worse, she has inherited her mother’s and grandmother’s obsession with the Windsors (Andrea Riseborough, James d’Arcy) and doggedly researches their lives, seeking clues about how to live her own. In extreme moments, Mrs. Simpson actually appears to her.
In comparison to the lost modern girl, a notorious woman like Wallis becomes the epitome of class, elegance, and integrity. (That is how bad things are now.) I must say Andrea Riseborough is the best Wallis ever; she actually has the manner of a socialite  from Baltimore; her warmth and easy, earthy charm are all we need to see to understand why David is enthralled with her. David is played by James D'Arcy who did a fine job although he is too tall for the part.

To quote The Hollywood Reporter:
Rather more flavorful is the story of Wallis, played with distinction and an almost poignant sense of resignation by Andrea Riseborough. First glimpsed in Shanghai in 1924 before entering London society in 1931, she is slowly pried from the hold of her burly military husband into the gangly but nonetheless tenacious grasp of Prince Edward (or David, as he was called by intimates). Surprisingly for the truth or dare adherent, Madonna is bashfully silent on the rumored intimate reasons why the king-in-waiting could not bear to lose this ordinary-looking woman.

Rather, looking at the dilemma more from female side, the filmmaker reveals a dynamic in which Wallis, her intimacy with Edward slowly morphing into unwanted isolation, soon becomes a pawn (never to be a queen) on the royal chessboard, virtually helpless to resist being moved about by forces far more powerful than she. This feeling of inevitability, backed up by snippets of Wallis' own letters registering feelings of being trapped, and her and Edward's eventual sorry fate as “the world's most celebrated parasites,” is the one aspect of the story that rings true on a human level and is appealing and almost touching for that.
Wally's choice of the Russian security guard as the solution to all of her problems seems odd for a person so obsessed with the Duchess of Windsor. At least Wallis had a prince and her house in Paris. I mean, I hope Wally finds true love with Evgeny but considering she hardly knows him one cannot be sure. In spite of the confusion of the character she plays, Abbie Cornish is an exquisite actress and she does the best she can with the part of Wally. On the whole, while the movie is not among my favorites, it is both entertaining and thought-provoking. For those who enjoy films with lavish vintage costumes, sets and scenery as well as a look into the sorrows of the rich and famous, W.E is especially worth seeing.


Enbrethiliel said...


This is a wonderful review, Elena! I was particularly struck by your observation that a woman like Wallis would seem very classy, elegant and well-bred to many of us today. We seem to have forgotten that these things are not a function of the age you were born in, the people you surround yourself with, or the material possessions you have: rather, they are rooted in character and integrity. If W.E. can make this point while underlining how glamorous Wallis Simpson undoubtedly was, it will definitely be worth watching!

Thanks for the review! I'll keep an eye out for this! =)

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for your insightful comment, E. Of course, I don't know how far Wallis would have gotten if it had not been for her family connections (she was the poor member of a prominent Baltimore family) and her boarding school training. I don't know how much actual integrity Wallis had but she seems that way compared to her confused modern prototype. Also, while the film is full of glitter, it exposes the emptiness of glamor as well as its fleeting nature.

julygirl said...

I agree it is a film worth seeing on many levels. It is interesting how the film is worthwhile seeing even though so much has already been written on the subject. That is the genius of the production.

Nancy Reyes said...

wonderful review...but can you say "propaganda"?

The pro Nazi sentiments of Wallace were covered up during the war, but as for me, I'll put this one next to the wonderful films of Leni Refenstahl...

elena maria vidal said...

The film glosses over the Fascist leanings of Wallis. The Nazi connection is another reason why I never found the story romantic.

julygirl said...

My comments about the film were made based on the production, ie, acting, set design, wardrobe, etc., and not on their values, Nazi affiliations or other choices they may have made in their lives.