Madonna’s first attempt at a big budget film tackles the romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as its tricky subject matter. Interestingly, rather than simply telling the engaging story of the British King who renounced the throne to marry an American divorcée, she wrote and directed the story through the eyes of an unhappily married woman. The story follows Wally Winthrop as she becomes increasingly interested in the life of the Duchess of Windsor through an auction of her belongings at Sotheby’s. As this interest increases, her own marriage continues to unravel and a new man appears in her life. Through parallel plotlines the film tells both the contemporary story and that of the affair between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
Not surprisingly the film jumps around at a dizzying pace between both stories, as well as trying to give background on the life of the Duchess. Abbie Cornish delivers quite a good performance as the lead, Wally Winthrop, a tortured character. From a royal history perspective, the portrayal of Wallis Simpson goes beyond sympathetic. While she has been demonized by history, she certainly wasn’t perfect and had significant flaws. There are many factual points that the film just simply stumbles over. It takes a stand that Simpson was not sympathetic to the Nazis when there is significant evidence to the contrary. The film also portrays a pregnant Wallis losing a child at the hand of her first husband, a story that seems unverifiable.
For the casual observer the film is watchable and creative in its storytelling style. Madonna’s direction succeeds where her dialog stumbles a bit. For a royal watcher of any depth, the movie is frustrating in a completely lopsided portrayal of a complex woman, the late Duchess of Windsor.
Run Time: 119 minutes, Rated R for some domestic violence, nudity and language
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac
Written by Madonna, Alek Keshishian
Directed by Madonna
Available on video, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Netflix Instant (at the time of publishing)