The movie is a folly, a desultory vanity project for its director and co-writer. But for those very reasons, W.E., by world-renowned personage and lesser-known filmmaker Madonna, is not without twisted interest. The title’s initials refer to American-born Wallis Simpson and her royal husband, Edward, a man who was groomed to be king of England but abdicated the throne, frittering away the rest of his silly life with his missus as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. As Madonna herself has explained, she developed a sympathetic identification with Wallis — not typically a recipient of sympathy — while living in England as the American wife of British director Guy Ritchie and trying to fit in, just like Wallis. From there springs this mad, feverish endeavor, a story-within-a-story about a Manhattan woman (Abbie Cornish) who, abused by her husband in an unhappy marriage, subsumes her misery in an obsession with the tribulations of Wallis (Made in Dagenham’s Andrea Riseborough, stealing the picture with class) and her no-longer-kingly spouse (James D’Arcy).
Anyhow, who is she kidding? In the end, Madonna clearly made this movie for the fun of filling the screen with fantastic fashions and unaffordable home-decorating finds. Every shoe, dress, silk undergarment, and silver sugar bowl is suitable for editorial consideration in the chicest style magazines. Therefore, the curious would do well to watch W.E. as if flipping through a stack of glossy mags with a pal, oohing and aahing about stuff without caring a fiddle-dee-dee about substance. C-