I’m a big fan of Madonna’s. More for her music than her film career, but if anybody is going to see the good in a film she’s co-written and directed, it’s me.
Oh dear, then.
Actually, it’s not quite that bad. It’s gorgeous to look at; the cinematography, art direction, costumes, hair and make-up are all immaculate. Andrea Riseborough is phenomenal as Wallis Simpson, injecting her with an infectious verve by a simple glance over the shoulder, or the phrasing of an off-hand comment. Even Laurence Fox makes a decent job of reprising Colin Firth’s Bertie, albeit in what is barely more than a cameo. And, of course, the Golden Globe-winning end credits song, performed by Her Madgesty herself, is rather lovely. Erm, did I mention the cinematography?
The story involves a rather dull woman, Wally- played by a dreadfully wooden Abbie Cornish- who, in 1998, becomes inexplicably obsessed with Wallis Simpson. As she plods through her miserable little life, her mind wanders off to the life of her idol, and we get random flashbacks of Wallis’s developing relationship with Edward, Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, this 1998 story is exceptionally dull. Bad relationships exist, but Wally’s relationship with her husband pushes credibility a bit far, as there appears to be no reason at all why these two would still be together. Every time the film flashes forward to this section, it grinds to a halt, and you’re longing to be whisked away again. Permanently. It improves slightly as she befriends a “Russian intellectual” security guard at Sotheby’s, but don’t expect to be swept away by romance.
The Wallis/Edward sections are more successful, although their episodic nature is frustrating to watch. The story makes significant leaps where I would have preferred to see the filled-in gaps. This film is as much about Wallis & Edward as The Iron Lady is about Thatcher’s political life.
Madonna’s direction is confident and stylish, but there are times where more is less. Lots of close-ups, headlines, jewellery, jump-cuts, slo-mo… Sometimes, a scene just needs to play out. Madonna appears to suffer from ADD (or at least assume her audience does) as no shot seems to be held for longer than ten seconds. She has much to be proud of here, but ironically would likely have been more successful had she not tried so hard.