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DVD review: W.E

May 24, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

When Madonna married director Guy Ritchie and moved across the Atlantic she decided to read up on her English history in order to fit in and became gripped by the story of Edward VII and Wallis Simpson.  As the world’s witnessed times over,  Madonna doesn’t do things by halves and her fascination with Edward and Ms Simpson culminated in her deciding to venture back into film.  The result is W.E.  Now available on DVD, this is definitely a film by Madonna having been directed by Madonna, filmed by her own production company and co-written by Alek Keshishian, who previously worked with her on her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare (aka In Bed with Madonna).

W.E opened in Britain and at the Cannes Film Festival to a pretty flat reception. In W.E, the story of Wallis and Edward (Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy) is told through an American, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish). Winthrop’s living in 1998 New York, trapped in a loveless marriage and so consumed by their story she hangs around an auction house that’s selling some of Simpson’s effects and strikes up a friendship with a Russian Writer. As far as narratives go this is pretty insipid, but as a framing device it’s even detrimental and disjointing; debasing the validity of the very story at the centre of the film. It emphasises subjectivity and, to make matters even worse, it is dull and feels unnecessary; merely detracting from the main action. An unashamedly American depiction of British history, the story is over-romanticized to the point of getting a little nauseating. The only consolation is that it isn’t as offensively mawkish as the earlier American film The Woman I Love (1972), but surely nobody could take a film that feels like Sex and the City meets The Chariots of Fire seriously.

The film is visually striking, if not a little over polished. The cinematography consists of a number of fluid coloured shots, in which you are encouraged to appreciate the impressive set design and exquisite costume from Arianne Phillips. Madonna is certainly accomplished in choosing who best to work with. W.E’s strong aesthetic, coupled with very good casting and a particularly strong performance from Riseborough, warrants the film as tolerable and, dare I say it, fun -if not taken too seriously.

Unsurprisingly, some scenes in the film do induce cringing. In one scene Simpson dances rebelliously to Pretty Vacant with a Masai warrior: slightly embarrassing to watch, especially when you realise that Madonna’s conveniently left the couple’s infamous links with Hitler’s Nazi party pretty much unexplored in the film. Following the less than flattering depiction of Simpson in British film, The King’s Speech, you get the impression that Madonna is attempting to reinvent Simpson.  She’s attempting to clean up the reputation of a tarnished fellow American: a public figure she can probably relate to having herself taken risks, revelling in controversy and criticism throughout her career.

The film’s too long and the story over complicated. Although it is beautifully shot and well styled it does feel as though Madonna over egged the pudding an. It seems that Madonna felt she had a lot to prove when making this film and although it’s not a really terrible film (see Swept Away for that) it does, in typical Madonna style, take quite a lot of digesting – rather like an overly elaborate wedding cake.

Kerry Flint.