First Night: W.E., Venice Film Festival

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
3.00

So Wallis Simpson was a victim – and Madonna can direct

No one knew quite what to expect of Madonna's film about Wallis Simpson. Many in Venice were anticipating (and some actively hoping) for a prize turkey along the lines of her earlier Filth and Wisdom. They'll have been disappointed by the sheer zest and craftsmanship of W.E.

The film is no masterpiece. It has a very cumbersome narrative structure (flitting between Simpson's story and that of "Wally Winthrop", a young woman in late 1990s New York obsessed by her) and takes a strangely reverential attitude toward the British aristocracy of the 1930s. Occasional moments – the scene in which Mohamed al Fayed lets Wally (Abbie Cornish) read Simpson's letters or Wallis Simpson pogo-ing to the strains of The Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" – provoke titters. Nonetheless, the film boasts a remarkable performance from Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson – one that captures Simpson's hauteur but makes her seem far more sympathetic and vulnerable than the caricature of Simpson in The King's Speech.

Madonna's visual style owes more to Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love than to traditional British costume dramas. Swooping camerawork, slow motion, fetishised close-ups, and delirious music are used in even the most routine scenes. At times, as Simpson sashays into frame in yet another gorgeous new dress, it is as if we are watching a Vogue photo-shoot recreation of the 1930s rather than a movie. The visual inventiveness blinds us to the occasional banality of the storytelling.

Wally is unhappily married to an arrogant psychoanalyst. She used to work at Sotheby's in New York. When the auctioneers hold a sale of Edward and Simpson's estate, she is a constant presence there, poring obsessively over their old possessions and fantasising about Simpson's life.

Madonna's perspective on Simpson is bound to be hotly debated. The film offers a strongly revisionist account of Simpson, portraying her as a victim rather than as the opportunistic divorcée who cost Edward his throne. W.E. pours scorn on the idea that Simpson and Edward (attractively played by James D'Arcy) were Nazi sympathisers. The same characters and incidents that featured in The King's Speech are shown here but are invariably given a very different interpretation.

The modern-day sequences are markedly less effective than those showing the gilded, glamorous 1930s. By looking at the Wallis Simpson story through the eyes of her young present-day admirer, Madonna is clearly signalling that the film is subjective: an interpretation rather than a straight biopic. However, the attempts to draw parallels between Simpson and "Wally" are often strained. Both yearned to be mothers. Both had bad experiences at the hands of abusive husbands. What Madonna doesn't make clear is just why Wally so admires Mrs Simpson in the first place. The story of her own burgeoning romance with a Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac) is far-fetched. It is also markedly less compelling than the romance between Simpson and the King forced to abdicate.

Many will feel we've had quite enough of the Windsors on screen already. However, Madonna is far less interested in the seismic effect the relationship Edward VIII and Simpson had on British society than in telling the story of a glamorous outsider whose romantic yearnings made her one of the most notorious women in the world.

Venice Diary

Madonna compared her life to that of W.E.'s main character, Wallis Simpson, at the film's official press conference yesterday. "I think it's very common when people become celebrities or public figures or icons, that we are often reduced to a soundbite," she told reporters. "I think there was obviously some kind of subconscious attraction to her."

Sick laughs

French-Polish film director Roman Polanski was absent from the premiere of his latest film, Carnage, as he still fears extradition to the US for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl. But the film elicited the festival's biggest laugh so far for a scene when Kate Winslet projectile vomits. "We were all completely beside ourselves with laughter," Winslet said. "There was some clever CGI involved."

Banned at home

Chinese director Ye Lou, banned in his home country for negative portrayals of the Chinese government and using nude scenes, has premiered a film about a woman's sexual submission to a dominant man. Called Love and Bruises, it will not screen in his homeland. "For now, as far as I know, it's impossible," Ye said.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk