W.E. review

Two scenarios: in one we see the true life account of Wallis Simpson (Riseborough), divorced American socialite abused by her first husband and bored with her second, succumbing to the charms of the King of England (D'Arcy) in the 1930s. Their pairing sparked such an outrage that it caused a constitutional crisis, culminating in him abdicating from the throne so he could marry her.
The parallel storyline is set in New York, 1998. Wally Winthrop (Cornish) is an unhappily married 28-year-old desperate for a baby. She is obsessed with the tale of Simpson, visiting Sotheby's regularly to buy memorabilia of the famous personage. She also embarks on an affair with the swarthy security guard working there, Evgeni (Isaac), a Russian intellectual. He transforms her, but she is still determined to read Simpson's letters, now owned by Mohammed Al-Fayed (Bilginer). So much so that she visits the Harrods owner to get permission from him to view them.
This sequence is by far the silliest of all in this tepid romantic drama. Suffice to say that Madonna's movie doesn't work. The two story strands simply don't click. Why does Wally have such a single minded interest in Simpson? What motivates her to find out everything about the lady? The editing is nimble jumping between the time frames, juxtaposing the two women at cunningly judged moments, but when Simpson actually appears to Wally offering advice then the narrative ceases to be taken all that seriously.  
It certainly looks stylish though. The sinewy camerawork lovingly lingers over the great clothes and sets and the iconic performer could have a talent directing soft core eroticism - Cornish looks very sexy in her underwear. But at creating impassioned drama she falls short. The period scenes are too woolly and schematic to convince, though Riseborough and D'Arcy both give a good account of themselves as the troubled lovers. while the modern storyline is slowmoving and dull. Cornish spends too much time in a trance-like tentative state at times but Isaac is excellent as the smooth security guard. He's an immensely versatile actor and his Russian accent here is flawless.
Overall it's a worthy effort that misses the mark. It's not dreadful but nor does it impress. The emotions don't ring true and one fails to be moved by the dilemmas facing the protagonists. An ultimately anemic effort that promises far more than it can deliver.

W.E. at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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