W.E. tells the stories of two women: Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII of England (and at the time British Emperor) abdicated the throne in 1936 and Wally Winthrop, a modern day Manhattan housewife who obsesses with Mrs. Simpson as she visits an exhibition of her memorabilia.
W.E. doesn’t claim to be an objective retelling of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s (as they became known after they married in exile) story, instead it recounts it through the thoughts and daydreams of Wally, who is locked in a loveless marriage. Both stories advance in parallel and are intertwined just enough not to be overbearing. I really enjoyed that element of the film.
W.E. also examines what happened after the Duke and Duchess wed, and through a look at a collection of the Duchess’ private letters, recounts the unhappiness of the Duke who was refused back into the UK and felt redundant because of his inability to go back to public life. This in turn put a lot of guilt on his wife’s shoulders and raises the question that neither of them ever answered: did their matrimonial life turn out to be worth him giving up the crown and her being vilified forever?
What everyone agrees on (even the critics) is that the cinematography in W.E. is very well done. Thanks to costume designer Arianne Phillips who scored an Oscar nomination for her work on this film, and yes, IMHO excellent filmmaking on Madonna’s part, the movie is visually amazing. Fashion lovers relish it, because it stayed true to the Duchess’ legendary wardrobe, working with her favorite design houses such as Dior, Vionnet, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to replicate her outfits and famed jewels.
If I were to nitpick, it would be along two lines: 1) I would have liked more of a view on what made Wallis Simpson so special to the King amongst all the women he could have courted and married without having to give up his throne. 2) There are a few scenes where Wally imagines talking to Wallis. These scenes are not bad as such, but I felt the movie could have done without them, as Wally’s constant daydreaming is more than enough to convey the lessons she is learning through her namesakes’ story.
I am not pretending that W.E is an all-time great, but it is a great piece of entertainment, as good as many acclaimed films in recent years, and a very interesting way to look at one of the most fascinating love stories in history. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein said that if Madonna “were Joe Smith, she would be heralded as a great new filmmaker, but her reputation precedes her”.
For some reason, critics and Hollywood types seem to have decided a long time ago that they would keep their kingdom closed to the Queen of Pop. Hollywood may have become more accepting of strong female roles, but maybe not of strong real life women.