An amorous Russian security guard Madonna's dislocation from reality spreads to her debut feature film W.E
Verdict: A royal mess
Cruel critics may list all the ways in which Madonna’s film about the Royal Family in the Thirties is worse than The King’s Speech.
The kindest thing to say about W.E., her addle-pated fanzine to Wallis Simpson, is that it’s not entirely a disaster.
The costumes, jewellery and furnishings are excellent, the cinematography is above reproach and Andrea Riseborough has a noble stab at the impossible, which is to turn the scheming seducer of the spoiled, drippy Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) into a helpless victim.
Windsor soup: Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy in W.E.
However, there’s no way to overlook the ineptitude of the screenplay by Madonna and long-time collaborator Alex Keshishian.
In particular, a modern story about a young woman appropriately known as Wally (Abbie Cornish), who endures marital abuse while naively contemplating Wallis’s life, is a hilariously misconceived framing device.
It is also astonishingly dull, taking up too much of the movie and adding nothing to our understanding of Edward and Mrs Simpson’s relationship.
Wally’s most sublime moment — her purchase at auction of Wallis’s gloves for a grotesquely inflated price — is an unintentionally repellent view of shopping as women’s liberation.
The real deal: Madonna intersperses the film with shots of Wallis and Edward which only highlight how different the actors in the movie are from the people they play
Madonna’s dislocation from reality is everywhere, not least in her invention of an amorous Russian security guard at Sotheby’s (Oscar Isaac).
He’s not just a cute, smouldering hunk willing to cater to a lady’s every whim, but an intellectual who reads Rilke and a skilled player of Rachmaninoff, who lives in an enviably colossal New York loft with his own grand piano. Who knew Sotheby’s paid its security guards that well
Just as bonkers is Madonna’s decision to intersperse newsreel footage of the real characters throughout the movie, possibly in order to show up the physical dissimilarities of the actors and the people they’re playing.
No good: Madonna's first attempt at a big screen feature is not quite up to scratch
The film also, crucially, fails to make us feel anything for either of its central couples. Madonna is a cold, emotionless actress, and this carries over into her directing style.
Stylistically, the picture is a shambles — almost entirely naturalistic, but then descending into trendy gimmickry as Wallis boogies anachronistically to the Sex Pistols singing Pretty Vacant and with a Masai warrior, to show that those rumours of her being racist are so, like, really unfair.
Madonna glosses over the extent to which her two heroes fraternised with Hitler and other prominent Nazis. Her purpose is to worship her Madonna-like central character for finding fame, wealth and love, only to discover life at the top is no picnic either.
So making this film may be worthwhile therapy for Madge, but it’s a colossal, narcissistic bore for the rest of us.