Romance of the Century

W./E.

Ravishingly told!

Ravishingly told!

Madonna’s directorial debut focuses on the stylish romance and subsequent marriage of King Edward VIII to swanky American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936 in the period drama W/E sparking the abdication of the King in one of the most scandalous romances of the 20th century. W/E also has a concurrent narrative of a Park Avenue socialite Wally Winthrop who after leaving her job at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York falls into a loveless and cruel marriage with a heavy-drinking and bitter psychiatrist played by Richard Coyle. In both instances Wallis Simpson, played by Andrea Riseborough and the fictional character of New Yorker Wally played by Australian actress Abbie Cornish suffer abuse by their violent  first husbands, Madonna attempts to highlight more the plight of privileged woman physically abused by powerful men.

Not that W/E is just about gender violence, but more about the romance and sacrifice that both King Edward VIII, known as David, played by James D’Arcy and Wallis Simpson enjoyed and endured as their love carried them through the abdication crisis, media scrutiny and lavish exile in France. Not to mention that both Edward and Wallis, who become the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were vilified in the American and British press in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II for apparently being Nazi sympathizers following a prolific meeting with Hitler in 1937.

Naturally W/E should be seen as a lesser companion piece to the Oscar winning Tom Hooper film The King’s Speech focusing on King George VI also know as Bertie who had to cope with the abdication of his older more articulate brother Edward along with Britain’s eventual entry into World War II in September 1939. The last five years of the 1930’s was an extremely unstable period both politically and socially with many geopolitical changes  occurring rapidly with the military expansion of Nazi Germany in Europe and the impending threat of World War. During the war years the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived in the Bahamas where he was Govenor according to the fascinating life of Wallis Simpson – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallis_Simpson

Benzedrine in the Champagne

Through historical footage, Madonna shows us not only the historical aspects of this period, but of the lavish and all together captivating love affair which occurred between Edward, the then Prince of Wales and the forthright American from Baltimore Wallis Simpson, as the couple become the darlings of the international Mediterranean party scene from Cannes to Portofino. The Prince of Wales offered gorgeous gifts of custom made Cartier crosses to his love, Wallis Simpson as they frolicked in the surf in the French Riviera. The dashing and charming Edward, who felt nothing of popping Benzedrine into guests Champagne glasses at a Belgravia midnight screening and soon got the party started  with Wallis Simpson, doing a particularly zany thirties jive with pearls flying and music blasting. In this fabulous party scene that W/E depicts Wallis and Edward as the epitome of celebrity chic, the opulent couple worshiped by the established international elite made up of wealthy Americans and Britons who made the French Riviera their fashionable playground.

The Sotheby’s Auction in New York

Whilst the second narrative of Wally befriending a Russian immigrant security guard Evgeni played by Oscar Isaac at the 1998 Sotheby’s  Auction of the gorgeous possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in New York that is lovingly fleshed out in the second part of W/E, it is really also just as significant since Wally eventually travels to Paris to fulfil her obsession with Wallis Simpson by requesting to read the Duchess’s private letters held by Mohamed Al Fayed at the Duke and Duchess’s former Parisian chateau near the Bois du Bologne,  father of Dodi who was killed along with Diana, the Princess of Wales in the fatal 1997 car crash in Paris a year before that makes this quest on Wally’s part both liberating and poignant.

Madonna’s real talent lies in her music but her hand as a director of such an interesting subject as the love affair between Wallis and King Edward should not be discounted as she focuses more on their lavish affair which become internationally known as the Romance of the Century.

From a feminist perspective, Madonna’s lavish film W/E is more about style than substance with engaging shots of New York and Paris, yet even the relevant character sketching scenes portray both the affluent Wally in 1998 and the stylish Wallace in 1936 as emblematic of how woman throughout the centuries no matter how gorgeously attired they are, can also become victims of physical violence and social scorn. The film is adequately assisted by a heart rendering musical score by Abel Korzeniowski and stylish costumes by Arianne Phillips and will appeal to all lovers of stylish period dramas.

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