"W.E" - Madonna’s much-maligned sophomore directorial effort (she directed a small artsy film called "Filth and Wisdom") arrives on Blu-ray for the world to judge for themselves. The film revolves around a young woman named Wally (Abbie Cornish) - suffering in a loveless marriage - who becomes obsessed with the tragic love story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) who notoriously gave up the crown for her. When Sotheby’s begins auctioning off the personal belongings of the couple, Wally keeps repeatedly visiting the auction house. In doing so, she starts relating her life to the lives of the infamous couple.
I think what happened upon release is that critics couldn’t separate "Madonna - the global music superstar" with an artist who had a story she genuinely wanted to tell. It had been called a "desultory vanity project" and one critic even states that it "leaves one wishing she’d find other creative outlets for those times when she’s bored with the pop-star life." That’s like saying an accountant should never try his hand at wood-working. Why can’t she dip her toes into another artistic endeavor? If it had been any other new director, flaws in the film might be pointed out, but it wouldn’t have been met with the disdain it was.
Putting any baggage aside of who Madonna is - and has been - "W.E." is actually a compelling story of two women seeking love and finding it where they didn’t expect to. It’s about the fallacy of there ever being the perfect "great romance." And it also offers the case that while no love story is ever a true fairy tale, there can be a deep and preternatural connection between two people that defies explanation.
While I found the Abbie Cornish/Oscar Issaac story more emotionally investing (Cornish can do no wrong in my book), the Wallis/King Edward VIII sequences were interesting in a more historical way. The fact that W.E. were fashion icons and stunningly famous didn’t totally get the screen time I think it needed - and I wasn’t exactly sure why the British people hated Walis so much - but I was still fascinated by their story.
As for the filmmaking, "W.E" is a gorgeous film with beautiful cinematography by Haden Bogdanski, stunning costumes by Arianne Phillips, amazing production design by Martin Childs (the locations are breath-taking), and a phenomenal score by Abel Korzeniowski.
Madonna does a nice job with the actors and her use of the camera and space makes "W.E" become this grand filmic poem. It is consistently interesting to look at and you have to give Madonna credit for having a particular vision and achieving that. Sure, there are things I wanted to know more about and I wonder if a straight story about W.E. without the Abbie Cornish section might have allowed for that, but this was the choice of Madonna and co-writer Alek Keshishian (director of the Madonna doc "Truth or Dare"). It’s not a bad one at all - it’s simply how they saw best to present the story.
There is much to appreciate in "W.E." and if you can put aside any pre-conceived prejudices about who the woman behind the camera is, you might just see there is a real talent there. I, for one, am curious as to what she could do next.
Special Features include only a 22 minute featurette on the Making of "W.E." that includes interviews with a surprisingly down-to-earth and reflective Madonna.