7 out of 10

Release Date: 20th January 2012

Director: Madonna: (Filth & Wisdom)

Cast: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaacs, Richard Coyle, David Harbour, Judy Parfitt, Katie McGrath, Lawrence Fox, Natalie Dormer, Anna Skellern, Geoffrey Palmer with James Fox and Haluk Bilginer

Writer: Alex Kesheshian & Madonna

Trailer: W/E

I’ll say this much about Madonna, being a musician she certainly knows who to match a piece of music to a scene.  The soundtrack is one of the most notable aspects of W/E and for the most point it makes the movie an even more immersive and emotional experience.  This can be seen as a well-timed companion piece to last year’s The King’s Speech as it covers a lot of the same events but from a different perspective. Picking up on two parallel story lines, the first chronicling the world’s most famous romantic scandal between King Edward VIII (JAMES D’ARCY – CLOUD ATLAS) and American socialite, Wallis Simpson (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH – NEVER LET ME GO). The second is a modern day tale of a W/E enthusiast, Wally (ABBIE CORNISH – SOMERSAULT) told during the Sotheby’s auction in the late 90s.  It’s very similar in this respect to Stephen Daldry‘s The Hours.

The splintered and non-linear approach to the narrative works to a large degree.  It’s the compelling performances by the two female leads that generate a pulse.  We are told, probably too many times, that we rarely look at the affair from Wallis-Simpson’s point of view. We don’t consider what she gave up to be with Edward. The film paints the majority of the Windsors black with the exception of a down-trodden Bertie / George VI (LAWRENCE FOX – GOSFORD PARK) and it portrays Wallis-Simpson as sympathetic yet defiant and steely.  James D’Arcy comes across as three dimensional, a better reading than Guy Pearce did in the same role in The King’s Speech. His love for Wallis-Simpson is believable.

Less convincing is the modern day tale of Wally and her abusive psychiatrist husband (RICHARD COYLE – PUSHER 2012).  An ex-employee at Sotheby’s she is enraptured by the exhibition of W/E paraphenalia on sale.  She befriends a Russian security guard (OSCAR ISAACS – DRIVE) who may hold the key to her escape and happiness.  Whilst the performances are very good and convincing, the growing relationship between the two seems rushed.  Her decision to go with this guy seems based on his reading choices (Rilke!!) and his skill at the piano.  Luckily, she can conjure up Wallis-Simpson to ask advice and offer succour herself in times of strife, seemingly able to time travel.  This doesn’t happen often enough to derail the film and turn it into a show stopping gimmick.  It is perhaps the only clunky element.

Abbie Cornish is an amazing actress, always favouring the role of strong and sexy women.  She is equally matched by the talented and rising actress Andrea Riseborough.  Along with an accomplished supporting cast, W/E is a far cry from the cinematic botch I was expecting when I read about it.  I was stupidly basing my opinion on Madonna‘s acting career choices, Evita aside, which are less than impressive.  Anyone ever seen Guy Ritchie’s forgotten third film Swept Away! Or her directorial debut Filth & Wisdom? Erk.

Historical inaccuracies have been angled at the film but beyond W/E dancing to The Sex Pistols in the 1930s, I couldn’t see anything amiss.

7 out of 10 – A great companion piece to The King’s Speech. James D’Arcy trumps his opposite number, Guy Pearce from said film, with a convincing Edward VIII.  Immersive original soundtrack and some sumptuous and well shot visuals.  Recommended.

Now read Matt Usher’s Review Below:


  • Abbie Cornish: Robocop (2014), Seven Psychopaths, Limitless, Sucker Punch, Bright Star, Elizabeth I – The Golden Age, Candy, Somersault
  • Andrea Riseborough: Birdman,  Oblivion, Welcome To The Punch, Shadow DancerBrighton Rock ( 2011), Resistance, Made In DagenhamNever Let Me Go, Happy Go Lucky
  • James D’Arcy: Jupiter Ascending, Let’s Be Cops, Cloud Atlas, Hitchcock, The Age Of HeroesScrewed (2011), Exorcist – The Beginning, Cloud Atlas, Master & Commander – The Far Side Of The World, An American Haunting, Flashbacks Of a Fool, The Trench
  • Oscar Isaacs: X-Men 5, Mojave, Star Wars – The Force Awakens, A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina, In Secret, Two Faces of January, Inside Llewyn Davies, The Bourne Legacy, Drive, Sucker Punch, Body of Lies, Robin Hood (2009)
  • Richard Coyle: GrabbersPusher (2012), Outpost 2, Prince Of Persia, Franklyn, The Whistleblowers (TV)
  • David Harbour: A Walk Amongst The Tombstones, Parkland, Pusher (2012), James Bond – Quantum Of Solace, Revolutionary Road, Awake, Brokeback Mountain
  • Judy Parfitt: Dean Spanley, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Ever After, Wilde, Dolores Clairborne, King Ralph, Diamond Skulls, Maurice, The Jewel In The Crown (TV)
  • Katie McGrath: Merlin (TV)
  • Lawrence Fox: Lewis (TV), Elizabeth I – The Golden Age, Deathwatch, Gosford Park, Dolores Clairborn, The Hole
  • Natalie Dormer: Hunger Games- Mocking Jay 2, Hunger Games- Mockingjay, The Riot Club, The Invisible Woman, The Counsellor, Rush (2013), The Tudors (TV)
  • Anna Skellern: The Incident,  I Give It a Year, Gambit (2012), 7LivesA Night In The Woods, The Descent 2
  • Geoffrey Palmer: Paddington, Run For Your Wife, As Time Goes By (TV), The Pink Panther 2,  Peter Pan (2002),  Anna & The King, Mrs Brown, Stiff Upper Lips, James Bond – Tomorrow Never Dies, The Madness Of King George III, A Fish Called Wanda, A Zed and Two Noughts, Clockwise, Butterflies (TV), Fall and Rise Of Reginald Perrin (TV)
  • James Fox: Effie Gray, The Double (2014), Cleanskin, The Kid (2010), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (2005), The Prince and Me, Sexy Beast, The Golden Bowl, Mickey Blue Eyes, Anna Karenina (1997), The Remains Of The Day, As You Like It (1992), Patriot Games, Afraid Of The Dark, The Russia House, The Mighty Quinn, Farewell To The King, Passage To India, Greystoke- The Legend Of Tarzan, Performance, The Servant
  • Haluk Bilginer: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The International, Eastenders (TV)

One thought on “W/E

  1. W/E – review by Joe Pesci II aka Matt Usher

    W/E is both frustrating and brilliant, often simultaneously. But let’s deal with the behind the scenes personnel first. Namely, Madonna. How dare she make a film about royalty? British royalty at that! Well, I’m very glad she did. Mostly. She has (at least) four credits on this film: producer, director, writer, musician. As a director she has come up with an assured, gorgeous looking film, well paced, extremely fluid and sumptuous and brilliantly performed. As co-writer she stumbles somewhat. There are two stories here (or is it one?) and we’re never quite sure how they are meant to relate; and the decision to append a sequence in France is anticlimactic and throws up the wrong sorts of questions. As a producer, she should have told herself to iron out those little niggles. As musician, she just warbles over the closing credits (I wasn’t happy about that). So my advice to Madonna (because I’m sure she’s an avid reader.) Stop wasting time on that silly pop nonsense and direct some films.

    W/E tells the story of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII (he was a king and emperor, she was a divorced American Catholic – their love could have destroyed an empire!). It does so by telling us the story of Wally and Evgeni (she’s obsessed by the Wallis-Edward romance, he’s a Rilke-reading Russian – together they’d make a really nice couple). So Wallis and Edward, Wally and Evgeni – perhaps the film should have been called WE-WE. Oh, maybe not. Anyway, we criss-cross through time following Wally as her life turns around against the backdrop of the late 1990s auction of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s belongings, and see her imagining the royal romance. At times I wondered if Wally was meant to have some sort of serious delusional condition, but I think the film just regards her as being very imaginative. So what is the connection between the two women? (Apart from Wally being so obsessed that she even managed to get named after the object of her obsession?) And there’s the main problem in the film. Whilst you’re watching it you feel certain that the connections and parallels will become apparent, but in the end, they don’t, or at least, not strongly enough. The Wally-Evgeni story is charming enough in a romcom way, with a nasty edge provided by a putrid husband. But Wallis just seems to become an imaginary agony aunt conjured up by Wally when she’s in need of a bit of advice. It’s as if the Wally storyline was originally devised as being a framing device, but which took on a life of its own, but without a satisfactory reconnection to the original story. In the end the Wally storyline just seems to be saying: women, they’ll be happy if (a) they can do what they want to do, and (b) have children. It’s all a little bit pat and condescending.

    For about 90% of its running time W./E. is brilliant but then the film almost collapses like a failed soufflé with a jaunt to Paris. Suddenly everything goes out the window. The soundtrack, previously unerringly effective without being obvious (despite being cod-Nyman),, tells us we’re in Paris through the addition of an accordion. Yes. The French hotel staff are arrogant. Wally suddenly becomes an idiotic detective masquerading as a writer. Then Mohammed Al-Fayed turns up (thankfully played by an actor; I genuinely feared he would put in a personal appearance). This whole sequence is both narratively improbable and thematically bankrupt, adding nothing. I don’t know to what extent Fayed has control over the Windsors’ effects, but it comes across as him saying ‘put me in your film and I can give you access to stuff’. Madonna should have said ‘no thanks mate’. Up until Paris this looked like being a really great film. The final reel unravels, and the Wally-Wallis relationship turns out not to be as complex or interesting as promised. It’s a shame because it is so good up to then, and although the very end of the film is nicely done, it’s not enough to rescue us from the Parisian disaster zone. Whilst I’m grumbling I’ll just mention that when George V dies he’s referred to as George III on a newsreel (I replayed it 5 times to check.).

    And yet there’s a lot that makes this more than worthwhile. For one thing, it’s always interesting to see how foreigners view royalty (and Britain in general for that matter). And was there just a hint of William and Harry in the portrayals of the Edward and Bertie (aka King George VI)? There are some excellent set-pieces, especially the auction scene where Wally is bidding for a pair of Wallis’s gloves. I can see why a critic might claim that the film is shallow and simply advocating retail therapy, but that critic would not be very perceptive. It’s a significant scene and it’s filmed like an action sequence. As for the Sex Pistols bit did no-one reviewing this film notice it was a fantasy sequence? Though whether the imagined decadence of the royal court is in the mind of Wally or Madonna is a moot point.

    Abbie Cornish excels as Wally – the camera clearly adores her and in a lot of ways it feels very much like her film. It’s just that it perhaps shouldn’t be. Andrea Riseborough plays Wallis like a kind of Dorothy Parker figure (I have no idea whether that’s accurate or not, but it’s meant to be a compliment). But the film only gives us edited highlights so it’s difficult to see her as a rounded character. Similarly, James D’Arcy (who seems to get better every time I see him – mind you I hated him when he was a pasty-faced clueless-looking juvenile lead) manages in his limited screen time to be posh and charming and aloof, but you’re left almost wishing that these two films could be untangled and set free. Elsewhere Oscar Isaac (just before the Coen brothers and STAR WARS VII happened to him) is a charismatic foil to Wally, and Richard Coyle is (perhaps too) nasty as her stupid husband (you do wonder what she saw in him in the first place).

    So, watch W/E (silly title) for the leading actors, for individual scenes, for the director’s sense of style and for its overall beauty. And I liked most of the music. Don’t watch it for its detailed depiction of the abdication crisis – it’s not really about that. That’s not to say that the film is shallow, but it perhaps has more ideas than it has room for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s