Monday, February 20, 2012


W.E.Madonna’s new film W.E., which she directed, intertwines the story of the greatest romance of the 20th century, and a modern girl's infatuation with it.  Wally Winthrop (Abby Cornish) is a lonely New Yorker who is obsessed with the love story and how it influenced the world. She is having an embryonic affair with Russian Evgeni (Oscar Isaac). She researches the story of King Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne for the woman he loved, an American commoner named Wallis Simpson from Baltimore. The misconception is the film is only the story of the King and Simpson, but it is not.  As such, it becomes confusing at the beginning because it is not apparent who is the character “Wally.” Is she Mrs. Simpson as a young woman, or is she a character who is impersonating her? 

With Madonna responsible for the script of W.E., with Alek Keshishian, the credit, and blame, must be put on her as sometimes the story is muddled and totally confusing. Intertwining the two stories of young Wally Winthrop and Wallis Simpson and the King takes a bit of getting used to and sorting out the details is a bit daunting. But once you figure out who is whom, it’s kind of a revelation to realize who the characters are and how they connect.

Naturally the “romance of the century” is easy to follow as it has taken on the aura of a myth by now. In 1936, King Edward gave up the throne for “the woman I love,” and astonished millions around the world. Brits where almost apoplectic, and the Royal Family was aghast. Not only was Mrs. Simpson a “commoner,” but she was an American (horrors!) and divorced three times. With no King to his title, Edward and Wallis became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor forevermore. In their disgrace, they soon became the toast of Europe and then America. They became the two prize guests at any party and were the jewels in society that openly welcomed them. The Royal Family, of course, dealt with them with a ten-foot pole, and would only invite them to Buckingham Palace on rare occasions.

Actress Andrea Riseborough plays Mrs. Simpson as though she were Simpson herself. She’s a dead-ringer for the woman who nearly caused the downfall of the British Empire. She’s very chic as was Mrs. Simpson, and she even captures those rare humorous moments with restraint and dignity. James D’Arcy plays the former monarch a little more sprightly than one would ever imagine he was. In his photos he always looked rather dour, but in the film he seems to have come alive and became a lively and humorous human. Not that he was like the beer-swilling guy next door, but he did have his warm moments.

It was said of Mrs. Simpson that she was more style than substance. Considered one of the snappiest dressers and most chic woman of her time, she set fashion style for many decades. This is shown beautifully in the film. Although Simpson’s great dresses were in museums, Madonna wanted to re-create the gorgeous fashions of Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior. Current fashion designers John Galliano and Issa worked on the film for clothes, famed hat designer Stephen Jones provided the headwear, and Cartier provided the jewels. 

Costume designer Arianne Phillips was brought in to design the film dresses. Ms. Phillips made them as a combination of real vintage pieces or based on patterns from the museums. With more than 60 costume changes required for Simpson, Phillips scoured the archives of both Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet. Phillips is on record as saying, “Some of the pieces that the duchess actually ordered I thought were hideous. Those wouldn’t work for the movie, so we modified and invented. Wallis wasn’t pretty; she was handsome, at best. In England, it was noted over and over how unattractive she was. But Wallis was a lot of fun—very entertaining She had a freedom to her that was definitely reflected in her clothes; the duchess was all about presentation. And that became her refuge, and her prison.” 

The best parts of the film are the flashbacks to the 1930s with some use of vintage film, plus the newly filmed scenes that capture the flair and style of the era. Being a sucker for more or less scandalous stories, the film pleased this reviewer to no end to see yet another version of the pampered lives of Wallis and Edward.

Madonna may be just getting her directing wings, and it may take a few more films before she really knows what she’s doing. The film is not bad, but it looks like it needs a little polishing and a little guidance for the director. The Weinstein Company.
For more reviews and our magazine, visit us at  artsnfashion


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