Madonna’s second directorial effort W.E., although brave, sadly doesn’t live up to expectations.
When you hear the name Madonna followed by ‘film’, scepticism will most likely follow. I mean, if you were to take away her Golden Globe for her performance in Evita, her film career is nothing to shout about. However, when Madonna tries her hand at directing, you can’t help but be curious.
W.E. is actually her second attempt in the director’s chair, and as a feature it was an enormous undertaking, considering the two-tiered nature of the romantic drama she penned. The plot couples the affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson in the 1930s, with the contemporary romance between a married New York woman and a Russian security guard.
This type of narrative has been done successfully before now, of course. The Hours, starring Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep for example, merges three generations of women and their separate stories together beautifully. Sadly in this case, W.E. doesn’t quite succeed.
We’re told the story of King Edward (James D’Arcy) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) from Simpson’s perspective, a unique view-point considering her usual portrayal as the heartless woman who tore apart the royal family after Edward abdicated the throne. Rather than make a period film like The King’s Speech however, Madonna preferred to set the story in 1998 and look back.
The historical side of the film is interesting. To learn about Wallis Simpson’s past, from her abusive first marriage through to her first meeting with the King is intriguing, and the sheer amount of research involved is clear. The parallel narrative between Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) and the security guard, Evgeni (Oscar Isaac) on the other hand, is quite dull.
The idea sounds promising on paper: A young woman having a hard time in her cold marriage uses the historic romance as a way to take her mind off her own problems. As she learns more, she finds parallels between herself and Wallis Simpson that surpass her initial expectations.
The trouble is the past and present do not weave together seamlessly. The transition between the two narrative strands is clunky, and I found myself confused a lot. In the first five minutes alone, the images flit between past and present so sporadically, I wasn’t sure which time-line I was in.
Even when things began to gel, I couldn’t connect to the central character, Wally. Too much time was devoted to her problems. I didn’t believe in her storyline, and there is more than one scene that could easily have been cut. Whether it was intentional or not, Wally’s character came across as wooden and seemed to maintain one facial expression for the entire film: think Kristen Stewart in Twilight.
Shots ran on longer than necessary too, and the fascination with watching Abbie Cornish walk slowly down corridors from the back was baffling. I have no doubt it was supposed to raise tension or remind you she is attractive, but on the contrary it made the film awkward.
If you do venture out to see W.E. do it for Andrea Riseborough. She shone as Wallis Simpson, and was the perfect force to counter Cornish. I found myself paying attention every time she appeared on screen. James D’Arcy was also charming as King Edward, while the supporting cast that include: Katie McGrath, Richard Coyle and Laurence Fox, support the main cast brilliantly.
It’s a shame really that the good didn’t outweigh the bad. I wanted to enjoy this film, having seen countless films merge the past and present together wonderfully. On this occasion, Madonna didn’t quite hit the mark. That said, I doubt the notorious perfectionist will allow this failing to deter her from future attempts, and her name alone will put bums on seats.
W.E. is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.