Madonna’s second feature film establishes her as a director, but her sticking to the official myth is laughable. It never bothers to answer the haunting question, “Why Wallis?”
Clearly Madonna relates to Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced, 35 year old woman who stole the heart of the heir to the British throne. Prince Edward’s obsession with making his mistress his wife and queen forced him to abdicate, as he famously said, “for the woman I love.”
Like the current heir to the British throne, was Prince Edward getting even with his parents? Or was he pushed because of his strong Nazi affiliations?
The story of Wallis and Edward is not enough for Madonna. She wants you to see her do another kind of film as well – one modern with touches of domestic violence, infidelity, sex, and a foreign lover.
Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) is the wife of wealthy William (Richard Coyle) and lives in a beautiful Park Avenue mansion. But Wally wants a baby and her husband is too busy making huge mortgage payments to make love to her. Wally, named after the Duchess of Windsor, lurks around Sotheby’s in New York as preparations begin for the Windsor’s jewels and furnishings to go on the auction block.
Every day Wally runs into a well-mannered, highly educated Russian, Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), working as a Sotheby’s security guard Obsessed with Wallis as Edward was, Wally even goes to London and Paris in search of Wallis. Will Wally throw away everything to go to “Little Odessa” and be with Evgeni?
According to author Christopher Wilson’s Dancing with the Devil, The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue, “it is highly possible penetrable sex never took place between the couple during their marriage”.
This is the love affair Madonna has chosen for her second directorial outing.
Yes, Madonna does mention the Prince’s alleged pro-Nazi leanings (The House of Windsor were, after all, German) as pure invention. Madonna merrily skips over W.E.’s trips to Hitler’s estate in the Bavarian Alps and the 1941 FBI dossier on the duchess’s spying for the Germans during WWII. The FBI was told that during the German invasion of France, the duchess passed information to the Nazis’ foreign minister.(1)
There is absolutely no hint in W.E. of the Prince’s masochism.(2) He’s portrayed as a playboy. Doesn’t Madonna know a thing or two about playboys?
There could be said to be parallels between the hard-scrabble, motherless childhood Madonna had in working-class Michigan and Wallis Simpson. Through cunning manipulation, Madonna has ascended to being one of the world’s most famous women and very wealthy icon. But is Madonna respected?
Madonna managed to acquire vast wealth, one well-bred English husband (now ex), a English country estate, and a mania for fox hunting and equestrian regalia, but did the Brits ever accept her? Her fake upper-class English accent was mocked by everyone.
Madonna has embraced the W.E. fairy tale with obstinacy. Her Wallis is vivacious, uttering irresistible, guileless, and an elegant fashion-plate. Oh, how the world was so against poor Wallis! Ultimately, she was thrust into an unhappy position. Let’s just say, Wallis and the most eligible bachelor in the world couldn’t help it – they fell hopelessly in love.
According to Madonna’s W.E., Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) meets the future King of England, Prince Edward (James D’Arcy), at his mistress’s house. Lady Thelma Furness (Katie McGrath) is going to America and asks Wallis, married and clearly no rival, to watch over Edward. Apparently, Wallis is the only person on Earth that treats Edward like a commoner. Her husband Ernest (David Harbour) stutters badly whenever he sees the Prince at their home.
In no time, and without any seduction or attraction shown on screen, Prince Edward falls hard for Wallis. Very hard. His father, King George V (James Fox) and mother, Queen Mary (Judy Parfitt) are apoplectic.
When King George V dies, Edward becomes King and then gives up the throne. Wallis and Edward roam the world as high-priced houseguests, feted over as prized showpieces. Oh, the unhappy life of the racist Duchess! Madonna uses some of the Duchess’s own letters. The Duchess, in a moment of clarity, wrote of their exiled life together as being “the world’s most celebrated parasites.”
And Wallis had the jewels to back it up.
I wept for Wallis.
While not shown by Madonna, Wallis eventually found Edward’s dependence upon her burdensome and claustrophobic, writing to her uncle: “How can a woman be a whole empire to a man?”
Clearly, I would have preferred that Madonna and her co-screenwriter Alek Keshishian had dispelled with the official tale and delved deep into the Windsor’s strange relationship. The story presented here, in context of today’s moral climate, is laughable. Who could possibly believe what Madonna has concocted?
The true tale would have been brilliant but Madonna does not have the skill to pull it off. A sexually-charged dynamic would have thrust W.E. into a psycho-sexual triumphant – if placed into the hands of masterful director. The contrived Wally and Evgeni storyline would have been unnecessary.
(1) According to Charles Higham’s book “Trading With The Enemy”: In the early stages of World War II, the Duke of Windsor had a secret meeting in Paris with Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann and Errol Flynn. The Duke of Windsor reportedly promised to help Hess contact the Duke of Hamilton, which “finally led to Hess’s dramatic landing on the Hamilton Estate in 1941.”
(2) The Duke allegedly allowed the Duchess to play dominatrix. Despite his several mistresses, Edward has been characterized as Mrs Simpson’s lapdog. “There must have been some sort of sadomasochistic relationship,” says Philip Ziegler, Edward VIII’s official biographer. “He relished the contempt and bullying she bestowed on him.”
On January 3rd, British TV on DVD specialist Acorn Media starts off the new year with the U.S. debut of The Windsors: From George to Kate, a fascinating 2011 documentary which uses archival footage to trace the recent history of the British monarchy from the real King George VI (portrayed in The King’s Speech) through Prince William’s recent wedding.
Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday. http://www.fromthebalcony.com/editorials.php. If you would like to be included on Victoria’s private distribution list for a weekly preview, just email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria directly at email@example.com.