It’s no secret that Madonna likes and identifies with strong women. So when her second directional effort turned out to be about scarlet-woman du jour Wallis Simpson, no one was much surprised. W.E follows the story of rich, lonely New Yorker Wally Winthrop and her obsession with the affair which rocked the pre-WW2 nation. The split narrative jumps between the story of Wallis and King Edward VIII -who gave up the throne for the woman he loved- and ˜present day’ Wally whose story for some reason takes place in 1998.
Split narratives, controversial subject matter and historical referencing would surely make even the most seasoned director back-away slowly, but this is Madonna we’re talking about. And that’s kind of the problem with the film. With Madonna, more is more. And the fact that we know this already, (remember the Sticky and Sweet tour anyone?) makes the mish-mash of things going on in W.E all the more unpalatable.
Madonna seems to think that using a shaky/blurry camera technique will sufficiently blend one time era into another. But it doesn’t. Sorry Madonna. In fact it has the opposite effect, making you too aware of a director and who exactly is steering the ship. The use of music is intrusive, some of it downright bizarre. At one point Wallis cavorts about during a party (presumably to show what a rollicking good time Edward and his posse had in the decadent thirties,) to a Sex Pistols song. Nothing is able to snap you out of time and place than watching Edward VIII dancing to punk rock.
The ironic thing is that the action set in the first half of the twentieth century, with its widely acclaimed set pieces and costume actually summons up the period beautifully. This, combined with the strength of Andrea Riseborough’s performance should be enough to carry the film through, but the structure is cringingly misjudged. Can someone tell me why watching Wally Winthrop pour over the duchess’ jewels and finery at an exhibition is supposed to be more interesting than watching the real thing?
Madonna reasoned, ˜We can all read the same history book and have a different point of view. So it was important for me to not present the story and say, ‘This is the one and only story,’ but to say, ‘This story moved me and inspired me.” However, the use of a present day window into the past seems more like a cop-out; a way for Madonna to wave away any accusations of historical inaccuracies, such as the way the film plays down Edward and Wallis’ involvement with the Nazis. Poor Andrea Riseborough. Watching Wallis Simpson appear as a vision on a Central Park bench in 1998, giving advice to a modern-day woman, is almost fork-in-the-eye painful.