W.E. is the kind of movie that most critics and viewers will find hard to give a fair shot at not sucking. Why the prejudice? Because it’s directed by Madonna, erstwhile biggest pop sensation on planet Earth. Scratch that – in the universe. When it comes to gargantuan superstardom, no one’s dare approacheth that of The Madonna.
Which is why everything she does outside of a recording studio and offstage is inevitably overshadowed by Madonna the Pop Phenomenon. At times, when she ventures outside the musical and dance arenas, it becomes difficult (or even impossible) for anyone to see her as anything or anyone other than The Madonna. It’s a gift and a curse, you see. She can help get movies made, but she can’t sell them to the public at large, it seems.
Which is the same issue with Madonna’s second directorial outing, W.E.. Though she never appears on screen, you feel her lingering touch in every second of film projected: it simply has this elegant bohemian quality that screams Madonna at every turn.
What’s it about? It tells the story of Wallis Simpson, the American socialite who essentially kept King Edward VIII from fulfilling his tenure as sovereign. Remember her in The King’s Speech? The overly familiar and slightly slutty woman at all the royal affairs?
Madonna paints a much kinder portrait of Wallis, played by Andrea Riseborough. I can appreciate her attempts to make sense out of what must have seemed a nonsensical situation at the time (give up a throne for a woman?!?), but in the end Madonna paints a rather quaint picture of romance (not “Love”) which feels altogether trifling. It all looks and sounds very pretty – it has been lovingly filmed by cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski – but doesn’t say very much about anything at all.
It’s as if Madonna simply wanted us to look at Wallis, but to engage no more. If that was her intent, then she achieved it well. If she wanted us to understand what compelled Wallis to behave as she did, it remains a mystery.
Final verdict: well-made and perhaps well-intentioned, but fails to truly illuminate its subject.