DVD Review: W. E.
When I first heard about this movie, I was really intrigued as I have a potentially obsessive attraction to the British Royal family. Then I found out Madonna wrote and directed it and I was surprisingly put off. Then it got nominated for an Oscar for costume design so I was intrigued again. So now that it's on Netflix streaming, I got to check it out pretty easily. The movie takes several real events - the love affair between Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII, known as David (James D'Arcy) that led to his abdication and the auction at Sotheby's of their estate. Overlaid on that storyline is a parallel story of a modern woman (Abbie Cornish) in NYC who was named Wally after Simpson and is obsessed with her story. She's married to an unfaithful husband (Richard Coyle - yes, Jeff from Coupling) and befriends one of the security guards at the Sotheby's auction.
The whole historical story is fairly well documented, but this movie tries to tell the story from Simpson's point of view, so we see her first marriage and living with an abusive husband in Shanghai. Then we see her coming to England and marrying her second husband. With him, she's invited to parties with the Prince of Wales, but is trying to set up one of her friends. Of course, eventually she is the one pursued by David. They have an up and down affair as she realizes how public their relationship will be because of his family. After he becomes King, it only gets worse, with members of Parliament threatening to quit. Most of this part of the story is told just as well in The King's Speech, but Wallis often comes across as the temptress who stole a King. However, W.E. tries to give a more balanced view of Simpson who had to give up privacy as well as becoming almost a historical joke.
Our modern Wally wanders around the auction thinking about how the items would have been used. There are moments when they can even interact in an almost dream-like sequence. There are also moments when Wally is channeling Wallis, dressing like her most of the film. However, our Wally is deeply unhappy in her marriage and looks to Wallis for strength to go after what she wants. The parallel stories work much of the film, but not every time. Some just start being silly when Wally gives back the gloves she bought at the auction to Wallis, who wears them out of the scene. The historical scenes do end quite well as we see what happened as David and Wallis (the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after the abdication) were never allowed back to England and lived out their lives in Paris. I liked that story line very much, and Abbie Cornish as Wally was really good, but without much to work with since her story was created to overlay a rich historical drama. And since it was Madonna, I feel I must comment on what was really rapid-fire direction, to an almost dizzying degree she'd whip between shots. It didn't feel necessary and often left you wondering what happened so quickly. Overall, because I enjoy period pieces in general, I did enjoy this. The technical bits were overcome by great costumes and an interesting historical story.