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Madonna's W.E. Reviews: Movie Lambasted at Venice Film Festival

James D'Arcy, King Edward VIII, Andrea Riseborough, Wallis Simpson, W.E. Madonna
James D'Arcy as King Edward VIII, Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson in Madonna's W.E.

Singers have been dabbling in movies with varying degrees of success for as long as feature films have been around. Opera star Geraldine Farrar became a movie star for Cecil B. DeMille in early silent era productions such as Carmen (1915) and Joan the Woman (1916). Later on, there were Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Yves Montand, Elvis Presley, Charles Aznavour, Barbra Streisand, and the list goes on and on until we get to Madonna, whose sophomore directorial effort, W.E., has just premiered out of competition at the Venice Film Festival to generally negative reviews.

W.E. tells two separate stories: That of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a married New Yorker who becomes enamored of a security guard (Oscar Isaac) at Sotheby's, and bits from the life of American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and her relationship with King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy), who abdicated the throne to marry her. Madonna herself co-wrote the W.E. screenplay with Alek Keshishian.

Acquired by The Weinstein Company, the same people who brought you (in the United States) the Best Picture sleeper hit The King's Speech, W.E. is slated to open in the U.S. on December 9, right in the thick of late-year Oscar season. Below are a few review snippets:

"Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson - marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis - it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna's jaw-dropping take on 'the 20th-century's greatest royal love story.' The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel." Xan Brooks, The Guardian.

"The intentions are good, but it's clear that Madonna has done what she set out to do without heeding the advice of a much-too-obliging crew. Thus, she has confused a historical film with a fashion show. It's true that the costumes are elegant, while the period reconstruction, if somewhat historically questionable, was industriously accomplished. But the film lacks what is essential: a soul." Romain Le Vern, Excessif.com.

"... [I]t seems that Madonna has, if anything, gotten worse since Filth and Wisdom. It's not that she has a bad eye—the film's handsomely shot by The Lives of Others DP Hagan Bodanski, in the same way that a perfume commercial is handsomely shot—it's more that her visual approach could best be described as 'throw it at the wall and see what sticks.' The camera barely sits still, stock changes from shot to shot, people walk down corridors in slow motion, all without rhyme or reason." Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist.

"Especially dreary is the slow-burning affair between Wally and Evgeni, the security guard, who just don't seem meant for each other on any level. ... But for the audience, Wally, despite Cornish's gentle and warm presence, offers very little in terms of personal interest or as a key into the world of one of the last century's most discussed couples." Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.

Photo: The Weinstein Company.

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