Venice Film Festival: Madonna’s ‘W.E.’ splits the critics


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Madonna’s sophomore directorial effort ‘W.E.’ unspooled at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday, and critics are split on the drama about the scandalous 1930s romance between American divorcee Wallis Simpson (the ‘W’) and Britain’s King Edward VIII (the ‘E’), which led him to give up the throne.

History buffs and fans of last year’s ‘The King’s Speech’ are certainly familiar with the story. Speaking to reporters at a news conference, Madonna said she hopes that the success of “King’s Speech” gives audiences a point of reference for “W.E.” (The Weinstein Co., which was behind ‘Speech’ and now ‘W.E.,’ is obviously counting on some crossover interest.)


Whether audiences will bite remains to be seen; the film will play at the Toronto Film Festival this month and then hit U.S. theaters in December.

Madonna said the two films examine the same historic period from distinct points of view. She also told a news conference that she identifies with Simpson, because fame often reduces celebrities “to a sound bite,” the Associated Press reported.

Yet critic Xan Brooks doesn’t see the film as a valentine to Simpson, and came out swinging in the Guardian, saying: ‘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.’

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy is slightly more charitable, writing that ‘hop-scotching between glamorous locations, as well as between decades and story strands, with the frequency of its director on a tour, ‘W.E.’ is as easy on the eyes and ears as it is embalmed from any dramatic point of view.’

The Telegraph’s David Gritten seems to be a fan: ‘A film directed by Madonna that deals in part with the love affair between King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson? A curious notion, and not truly an enticing one. Yet ‘W.E.’ is rather better than expected; it’s bold, confident and not without amusing moments.’ Yet he adds it’s ‘undeniably a strange concoction.’



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-- Julie Makinen