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  • W.E.
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The much maligned, brief theatrical film by Madonna - W.E. - fairs better on the small screen than it likely did in the movie houses. The stories are bifurcated, each one resembling a television creation - one a docudrama biopic, the other a contemporary soap opera. That Madonna, who directed and wrote the screenplay with Alek Keshishian, decided to mix the two stories is a bit daring but in some ways it works very well. In other ways the parallel stories seem like time traveling cars on the same highway that never quite travel at the same speed or quality.

The film mixes the notorious affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson with a contemporary romance between a married woman and a Russian security guard. The time is 1998 and at an auction of the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor unhappily married ex-Sotheby employee Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) becomes obsessed by their historic love story. Her own marriage to womanizing, abusive psychiatrist William (Richard Coyle) undermines her feelings of worth and as she learns more about the sacrifices involved in the famous affair, she gains her own courage to find happiness.

The film flips back and forth between the present and the 1930s and it is the historical aspect of the film that is almost flawless. We get to know Wallis Simpson (in a brilliant portrayal by Andrea Riseborough) and understand her failed first two marriages (at the time we meet her she is still married to Ernest Simpson played by David Harbour), and see the American sizzle that made her the talk of England. When Wallis wrangles her way to meet Prince Edward, better known as David, (James D'Arcy) there is a chemistry that develops to the point of passion and ultimately leads to Wallis divorcing Ernest to marry Edward - a deed that leads to Edward's abdication of the throne for `the woman I love', which he had assumed when King George V (James Fox) dies, to his stammering brother Bertie (Laurence Fox) and his caustic wife Elizabeth (Natalie Dormer). The paparazzi make their life miserable and the couple is not allowed to return to England until Edward dies, with the faithful Wallis supportively by his side through 36 years of marriage.

Wally - meanwhile - longs to be pregnant but sustains such abuse from William that she ultimately yields to the loving friendship the auction house Russian security guard Evgeni (Oscar Isaac) and begins her life again. The two stories are connected by Wally's obsession with the royal couple's notorious affair and at auction's end she is given access to private letters between Wallis and Edward that have been in the possession of Mohamed Al-Fayed (Haluk Bilginer) - a tacked on ending that feels ill at ease and redundant.

Everyone connected t the biopic angle of this film is excellent and Madonna shows that she knows how to direct affairs of the heart in a royal situation very well indeed. Both Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy are superb and the costumes and music and cinematography of this historical portion are exceptionally well done. Though the idea of the contemporary sluggish story is reasonable, Abbie Cornish seems uncomfortable with the script: Oscar Isaac shines as her new love. In all the film, though spotty, has merit and it not a bad debut for Madonna as director. Grady Harp, May 12
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on September 14, 2012
What can I tell you? The movie is visually beautiful, two stories in two era's (think Julie and Julia) and Madonna, the co-writer and director, portrayed Wallis in a fair and flattering way.

Poor Madonna, she didnt get the credit she deserved. This is a good movie, a good chick flick movie, beautiful period piece. The clothes of the original Wallis of yester-year could compete with the likes of Titanic. The cinematography could compete with The King's Speech.

It's like an art house movie instead of a blow-em-up "block-buster." You're probably not going to get your man to watch this movie with you but enjoy it anyway.

I bought it used and I know I will watch it again and even lend it to some girlfriends.
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After seeing Madonna's love letter to controversial Wallis Simpson "W.E" get savaged by the mainstream media, I was somewhat apprehensive about the film. The love affair between Simpson and King Edward VIII is a stunning and momentous true-life story that resulted in him abdicating the crown and becoming a lifelong exile from the country he had served. It is unparalleled in terms of historical significance. What a fantastic subject! I knew that Madonna had a particular interest in Simpson's side of the story, so this seemed a novel approach to a somewhat familiar tale. From advance previews, it seemed that the film was positioned to be a sweeping romance so I didn't really expect a by-the-numbers historical biography. And in truth, I learned little new about the pair that I hadn't seen in countless other representations. But even taken on its own terms, I don't know that "W.E." really accomplishes what it set out to do. It's not all bad, by any stretch, but the movie keeps the viewer at arm's length throughout.

In a strange decision, Madonna and her co-writer Alek Keshishian filter the famous love story through the eyes of a modern woman (Abbie Cornish). Cornish plays a rather expressionless upscale housewife tortured by an extravagant lifestyle and an inattentive husband. Just to elicit some sympathy for her plight of complete freedom and wealth, her husband is made out to be a cackling caricature of evil. Cornish is obsessively fixated on Wallis Simpson in a very creepy way (Simpson stories play non-stop on the radio and TV, she spends every waking moment studying memorabilia from the time period, and she has imaginary conversations with her idol). Of course, this aloof and troubled married woman is like catnip to a museum security officer (Oscar Isaac) and we all know where that is headed. In a fugue state, we see flashbacks to the courtship between Simpson and the King. Luckily, the scenes from the past are certainly more compelling than the contemporary plot thread which did not elicit my interest at all.

Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy are actually quite good in the titular roles and any opportunity to escape into their world is a welcome one. However, if you want solid history, this isn't going to provide it. It's a bare bones examination of the political climate, the other members of the monarchy, or anything of substance. The more controversial aspects of the pair are mentioned, but dismissed as sheer rumor without any introspection. Okay, fine, than hopefully this is a stunning romance. Well, not really. I never felt the real chemistry between these two. In fact, Simpson (especially in their courtship) seems to be manipulating the relationship from the start. I'm willing to believe this was a tremendous love story in real life, but this screenplay never convinces me in the film. And when we're supposed to view Simpson with great empathy at what she's sacrificed, her supposed misery and suffering just hasn't been well established.

And yet, for its faults, I must admit that this is one gorgeous movie! The shot compositions are interesting, the sets are extravagant, the Oscar nominated costumes are lovely, the orchestrations are lush and beautiful. Technically, "W.E." is extremely impressive. The film's shortcomings have little to do with the actors. If half of the movie hadn't been spent in modern times, this might well have been an entirely more satisfying experience. I didn't hate the movie by any means, I think it fell short of its potential and the narrative framing device was a particularly egregious mistake. About 2 1/2 stars, I'll round up for what might have been. KGHarris, 4/12.
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on April 15, 2012
W. E. is a handsome film, co-written and directed by Madonna, which deals with the scandalous romance between Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and his American Duchess, twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.

Like JULIE & JULIA, the picture tells two parallel stories. One deals with Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) an unhappily married woman during the 1990swho is totally obsessed with Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), and even imagines having conversations with her. Indeed, in one of these fantasy moments, Simpson turns to Wally and snaps, "Get a life!" The other story follows the path of Edward (James D'Arcy) and the woman who caused him to abdicate the throne of England.

The actors are excellent, as is Madonna's direction. The problem with this film is that the modern story, which dominates, is really not as intriguing as the historical one, even though we know how that one will turn out. Unfortunately, it's apparent from the start how the fictional Wally Winthrop's saga is going to end also.

The movie does, however, make some interesting points about the difference between the legendary "fairy tale" romance and reality.

Oscar Isaac, Natalie Dormer, Richard Coyle and James Fox co-star in the film, released in a 3-disc (DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital) set by Anchor Bay Entertainment. The sole extra is a well done "Making of" featurtette.

© Michael B. Druxman
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on January 2, 2013
If you have any comcerns regarding purchasing this DVD because Madonna is tied to it, that is the reason why you should purchase it. A very well done, crafted, researched, lavish, written, directed film. Madonna threw herself completely into the production and the result is one of the best films of the year. I like Madonna - not obsessed - and have always wondered if it was not a "MADONNA" production it certainly would have been received better at awards time. The woman has a gift. Again, well worth the purchase.
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on January 13, 2013
I don't think this movie is for everyone but my husband and I liked it. Although, I think it helped that we knew a bit about the story of Wallis and Edward to begin with. I recommend watching a movie about Edward & Mrs. Simpson before watching this. This movie is not shallow at all. In fact it is quite profound. There are 2 main characters - Wallis (past) and Wally (present). Wally is a woman in a bad relationship who was named after Wallis. She is obsessed with the story of Wallis & Edward as she desires the ultimate love that she thinks Wallis & Edward shared. The movie is very well filmed and the costumes, scenes and make up are a joy to look at. The actors do a great job. This is a sort of dreamlike artist film - it is not straight forward, fast-paced and doesn't have explosions. It is not the best film I have ever seen but is quite good. Even the special feature which includes Madonna was interesting. This is a story about love and life. Life is not perfect and neither is love. Another good artistic contribution from Madonna! Good job Madonna! :)
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After seeing Madonna's love letter to controversial Wallis Simpson "W.E" get savaged by the mainstream media, I was somewhat apprehensive about the film. The love affair between Simpson and King Edward VIII is a stunning and momentous true-life story that resulted in him abdicating the crown and becoming a lifelong exile from the country he had served. It is unparalleled in terms of historical significance. What a fantastic subject! I knew that Madonna had a particular interest in Simpson's side of the story, so this seemed a novel approach to a somewhat familiar tale. From advance previews, it seemed that the film was positioned to be a sweeping romance so I didn't really expect a by-the-numbers historical biography. And in truth, I learned little new about the pair that I hadn't seen in countless other representations. But even taken on its own terms, I don't know that "W.E." really accomplishes what it set out to do. It's not all bad, by any stretch, but the movie keeps the viewer at arm's length throughout.

In a strange decision, Madonna and her co-writer Alek Keshishian filter the famous love story through the eyes of a modern woman (Abbie Cornish). Cornish plays a rather expressionless upscale housewife tortured by an extravagant lifestyle and an inattentive husband. Just to elicit some sympathy for her plight of complete freedom and wealth, her husband is made out to be a cackling caricature of evil. Cornish is obsessively fixated on Wallis Simpson in a very creepy way (Simpson stories play non-stop on the radio and TV, she spends every waking moment studying memorabilia from the time period, and she has imaginary conversations with her idol). Of course, this aloof and troubled married woman is like catnip to a museum security officer (Oscar Isaac) and we all know where that is headed. In a fugue state, we see flashbacks to the courtship between Simpson and the King. Luckily, the scenes from the past are certainly more compelling than the contemporary plot thread which did not elicit my interest at all.

Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy are actually quite good in the titular roles and any opportunity to escape into their world is a welcome one. However, if you want solid history, this isn't going to provide it. It's a bare bones examination of the political climate, the other members of the monarchy, or anything of substance. The more controversial aspects of the pair are mentioned, but dismissed as sheer rumor without any introspection. Okay, fine, than hopefully this is a stunning romance. Well, not really. I never felt the real chemistry between these two. In fact, Simpson (especially in their courtship) seems to be manipulating the relationship from the start. I'm willing to believe this was a tremendous love story in real life, but this screenplay never convinces me in the film. And when we're supposed to view Simpson with great empathy at what she's sacrificed, her supposed misery and suffering just hasn't been well established.

And yet, for its faults, I must admit that this is one gorgeous movie! The shot compositions are interesting, the sets are extravagant, the Oscar nominated costumes are lovely, the orchestrations are lush and beautiful. Technically, "W.E." is extremely impressive. The film's shortcomings have little to do with the actors. If half of the movie hadn't been spent in modern times, this might well have been an entirely more satisfying experience. I didn't hate the movie by any means, I think it fell short of its potential and the narrative framing device was a particularly egregious mistake. About 2 1/2 stars, I'll round up for what might have been. KGHarris, 4/12.
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on February 13, 2013
Madonna has to be given the chutzpah award. Not content to dodge the brickbats that she eludes for her musical and acting career she has the audacity to assume the director's chair. Credit where credit is due "W.E.", though not perfect, is a good movie. It's a handsome looking production. Most of the criticisms I've heard were how Madonna transports the action of the film from time and place in breakneck fashion at the expense of the story. I will admit that initially this is jarring and headache inducing but after a while you get attuned to the rhythms of the film. If there's any fault to be found it's in the story which Madonna co-wrote. The film's central conceit of a cosmic connection between Wallis Duchess of Windsor(Andrea Riseborough) and Wally(Abbie Cornish), an unhappy New York psychiatrist's wife circa 1998 doesn't completely jibe. Regardless, "W.E." is an ambitious film and anybody who has reservations about it because it was helmed by a pop star should tuck such concerns away.
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on May 3, 2012
There are two sides to every story, and in this carefully crafted biopic merged with fiction, Madonna tries to tell us the story of Wallis Simpson, the commoner a monarch left his kingdom to marry. Though maligned by the critics, W.E. is an exquisite film.

Young Wally (Abbie Cornish) has inherited more from Wallis Simpson than her name. Her mother and grandmother were obsessed with the American divorcee, and so is Wally. Once an employee at a world-renowned auction house, now an upper society housewife with too much time on her hands, she is in a marriage of convenience for security and longs for a romance like Wallis had. Her psychologist husband (Richard Coyle) spends most of his time at work... or with his cell phone off, leaving her to pace her beautiful upper Manhattan apartment and dream.

In the late 1930's, Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) is married to a good-natured man after a disastrous first marriage that ended in abuse and left her unable to bear children. Though suffering from a bad cold, she insists on being present at a party in which His Royal Majesty the Prince of Wales, "David" (James D'Arcy) to his family and friends, is in attendance. There are immediate sparks between them, but for a time Wallis merely "looks after him" for one of her friends. But when that friendship turns into something more, their love affair threatens to tear a nation apart on the eve of war.

Critics have slammed this film for everything from its directorial style to the script. I happen to think they are all wrong. For a debut film by a first-time director, this is a masterpiece. Madonna knows movement and how to use it. She knows how to tell a story through female protagonists. She knows how to tug on our heartstrings and make a woman overshadowed by scandal and rumors a likable figure. That is what she did for me: she took a scandalous, notorious woman and made me like her. Not just a little bit, but a lot. Films from this era take a position on the scandal, either in favor of it or against it. This one doesn't. It presents the relationship for what it was, a unique and at times absurd affair. Yes, it is somewhat soft on their fondness for socializing and does its best to gloss over their Nazi empathies, but never did it feel overly defensive or contrived. In the end, it is a film about normal people who just happen to have titles attached to their names.

The past setting is exquisite, with beautifully crafted costumes, jewelry, and a perfect cast that expands to include Laurence Fox, Natalie Dormer, and Oscar Isaac. If there is one fault with the script, it is that most of it revolves around present time and Wally, while her story is less interesting than that of Wallis. I raised my brow a bit to find out that the past and present characters would interact, but it works out well, with their lives intersecting and paralleling one another from time to time. I would have liked a bit more with Wallis and David, but there is enough. The musical score is also beautiful, ranging from passionate piano pieces to more modern pop songs. But rather than being jarring, they give us a sense of excitement and fun.

Either this is a movie you are going to love, or hate. Much like public opinion on the romance itself, there is no middle ground. It glosses over some of the unsavory aspects of this couple (such as David's meanness to his brother Bertie) but doesn't hesitate to show us the brutal truth about everything Wallis went through. David may have given up his throne to be with her... but she gave up everything else.

Parental Concerns: brief backside nudity, a scene in which a man drags a woman naked from a bathtub and beats her up (resulting in a miscarriage). 5 f-words, one abuse of Jesus' name.
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on May 1, 2012
Madonna has been a superstar in the music world, and she will definitely remain so in the history books. She has also been involved in movies, and her career in Hollywood has not been as successful as she probably wished. So it was a surprise that she got green-lighted to direct W.E.," a period film, with a moderate budget - big risk, I would say. But the movie, I believe, works. It is an honest, passionate and elegant look at one of the most controversial romances of all time.

The film's main story is about the love affair between King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). However, instead of telling the story as is, Madonna chose to include a parallel, contemporary story involving Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) and William Winthrop (Richard Coyle). The film opens with Wallis Simpson waiting for her first husband, Winfield Spencer, to have dinner together. He shows up late and is unhappy that his dinner is not served. He beats Wallis, who is pregnant, causing a miscarriage. We then move to 1998, and meet Wally Winthrop, who is also waiting for her husband, to have dinner together, something that also doesn't happen. In this case, her husband was having fun with other ladies. In her lonesomeness, Wally (who was named after Wallis Simpson), visits an exhibition featuring King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson's memorabilia, which would later be sold in an auction. While viewing the objects, she daydreams about their famous romance, in which King Edward VIII surrendered his crown to marry Wallis, a twice-divorced American woman. It was a scandal at the time, which caused the couple to live in exile. The rest of the movie deals with Wally's problems with her husband, intertwined with aspects of the royal controversy.

"W.E." is quite stylish and with a great, eclectic soundtrack. I found the comparisons of both couple's problems very interesting. And this is understandable, as Madonna Louise Ciccone has been known to be vocal on women's rights. This film, in addition of being about the King Edward VIII-Simpson sacrilegious romance, is also about courageous women and true love. I would venture to say that this film should be viewed together with "The King's Speech," also a Weinstein production/Anchor Bay release, because it deals with the Duke of York, the brother that succeeded and inherited King Edward VIII's throne. The Blu-ray + DVD +Digital Copy edition of the film includes a making-of documentary (UK, 2011, color, 119 mins plus additional materials).

Reviewed on April 30, 2012 by Eric Gonzalez for The Weinstein Company / Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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