Venice Film Festival Screening: Madonna's W.E.

The question hanging over Madonna's W.E. was whether the pop chameleon had managed to reinvent herself as a credible film-maker. For some, the question was clearly moot, and I could practically hear the sound of pens being filled with acid and knives being sharpened. Unsurprisingly, there were critics who instantly pronounced W.E. an unmitigated disaster. But while it never really coheres as a fully realised piece of work stylistically, W.E. is nevertheless an enjoyably eccentric romantic hotchpotch which is never boring, sometimes moving, both charming and unintentionally funny in its moments of naïvety, and always visually appealing.

Traversing past and present, the film switches – or maybe thrashes – back and forth between the burgeoning romance between unhappily married Wally Winthrop (Australian rising star Abbie Cornish) and a Russian security guard at Sotheby's in New York, and the history-making love affair between Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), with whom Wally is obsessed, and King Edward VIII (James d'Arcy).

Wally has fallen for the fairytale and seeks solace and guidance in Simpson's story. Madonna, though, goes some way to deconstructing the myth – and, arguably, the myth of celebrity – to reveal the truth of Simpson's life: that far from being happily loved-up and living the dream, she felt isolated, trapped, and rejected by society.

But the film never achieves a consistent tone, with Madonna throwing in everything from Simpson dancing wildly at a riotous party fuelled by benzedrine and champagne played out to the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant, to a moving reconstruction of Edward VIII's abdication speech, and a piece of silliness involving pugs.

While W.E. won't convince anyone that Madonna should give up her day job, it is by no means the thoroughgoing embarrassment that some have claimed. Forget the name at the helm and enjoy the oddness.


Originally published in The Scotsman

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