Riding on the wave of the popularity of films showing kings and other royalty as human beings, that The King’s Speech fantastically rejuvenated, a film about Bertie’s brother, Edward VIII, was almost inevitable. Especially that his life, his sympathies (Adolf Hitler, anyone? Conveniently omitted and hushed up in this sweet piece) and his choices were theoretically much more fascinating and film-worthy than a film about a speech impediment coming in the way of ruling a nation.
Unfortunately and bizarrely, the first one to grasp this opportunity is Madonna. W.E. (standing for Wallis and Edward) is her second attempt at filmmaking and, even if it’s visually and technically better than the previous one (Filth and Wisdom), it’s still miles away from being a genuinely good piece of cinema.
The very idea of the way the storytelling is presented is great, if not original; two entwining, seemingly completely different life stories are presented simultaneously. These are the stories of two women: Wallis Simpson and Wallie Winthrop, in the1930s and 1998 respectively, and the film is shown from their perspective. It’s a very feminine film with female aesthetics (if one can label it this way). It was a good move to present Wallis’s perspective - usually it’s the abdicated king’s view we see on screen - it presents a different viewpoint and provides a springboard for Wallie’s musings and ultimate decisions.
And on paper it looks brilliant and engrossing. Sadly, the reality hits us hard in the face. The performances are incredibly uneven – Andrea Riseborough is fantastic and charismatic, and Abbie Cornish anaemic at best. We can barely hear what she’s saying, and we can’t but wonder what Oscar Isaac’s character, Evgeni, sees in this bland woman. And as for Isaac himself, he does a good job portraying a Russian guard infatuated with Wallie, who conveniently has a multi-million dollar flat in New York.
W.E. is worth watching if you are a period-piece fanatic. They’re gorgeous and incredibly accurate. Generally, the visuals (and music, you have to give it to her) in Madonna’s second cinematic venture are stunning, but ultimately fail to overshadow the weak story.
Dir: Madonna; US drama 2012, 120 mins;
Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy
Premieres April 19