Occasionally perceptive but overall flat second movie from Madonna
Madonna’s second film as director after the forgotten comedy Filth and Wisdom aims considerably higher. The initials W.E. refer to the joint signature of American divorcee Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, whose relationship shook the 1930s British monarchy and provided a sub-plot in last year’s much garlanded The King’s Speech.
Co-writing the script with her In Bed With Madonna director Alek Keshishian, W.E. recalls Meryl Streep cookery drama Julie and Julia by intertwining such familiar biopic elements with the fictional story of modern-day New Yorker Wally Winthorp (Abbie Cornish), whose sympathy with Wallis and fascination for historical romance casts some light on her own relationship with auction house security guard Evgeni (Oscar Issac).
This awkward framing device dilutes the screen-time offered to Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy as Wallis and Edward, but at least allows Madonna the opportunity to make some valid points about how celebrity culture can infuse and enrich modern life. And while flatly acted and stiffly structured, W.E.’s brazenly sumptuous look and gorgeous costumes give the film a substantial entertainment value, even if the patchy result will be of less interest to those interested in royal history than Madonna’s own fan-base.