If you’re fascinated by British Royals and are already aware of how and why the Duke of Windsor abdicated as King to marry twice-divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson, you’ll be able to follow this convoluted concept, co-written and directed by Madonna, who ineptly blends dual stories into “W.E.,” standing for Wallis and Edward.
In Manhattan in 1998, unhappily married Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) is obsessed with the upcoming auction of the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, with whom she fantasizes a personal connection, since she was named after Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the charismatic , calculating social-climber who captured the heart of King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) in the 1930s.
During her daily visits to Sotheby’s, where she’s befriended by a Russian-émigré security guard, Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), Wally learns more about the scorn she suffered and sacrifices Wallis made to marry Edward (a.k.a. David). After travelling to London to read private letters owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed (father of Dodi, Princess Diana’s lover), Wally follows Wallis’ “Get a life” advice, mustering the courage to leave her abusive psychiatrist husband (Richard Coyle) and pursue her own happiness.
Although the Windsors were known to be shallow, materialistic Nazi sympathizers, entertained by Hitler at his Berchtesgaden sanctuary in 1937, Madonna and her co-writer Alek Keshishian (“Truth or Dare”) take a lofty view of history. At a press conference in Toronto, Madonna defended her simplistic, sympathetic portrayal saying, “In the end, I think the truth is subjective. We can read the same history books and come away with a different point of view.”
Instead, the emphasis is on glossy production design, cliché-riddled dialogue and glamorous garb, particularly Cartier gem-encrusted crosses that the King bought for Wallis and her luxurious, ultra-chic, Mainbocher/Vionnet/Schiaparelli-designed wardrobe. Inexplicably, in one imagined sequence, Wallis dirty-dances to the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant;” in another, she gyrates to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.” Unfortunately, the inept editing removes any sense of connective drama.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “W.E.” is a flimsy, if fashionable 5 – a folly for Anglophiles.