“There may be few people better suited than Madonna to tell the story of the two-time American divorcee for whom Britain's King Edward VIII abdicated his throne” begins this already-dubious profile of Madonna’s new sophomore directorial effort W.E., a film that, as previously reported, juxtaposes the story of Wallis Simpson with a fictional modern-day romance involving a woman who’s obsessed with her. Among the many reasons listed as why Madonna, and only Madonna, has such a special aptitude for the project: “common traits” like the fact that she, an American, also married a British person, “a sense of adventure,” “a shared love of fabulous clothes,” and, of course, the fact that they were both famous people. Madonna says she empathizes with the pressures of Simpson’s notoriety and their inability to defend themselves from relentless press scrutiny. “Hopefully, I have been able to do that for Wallis Simpson through my film,” Madonna told reporters at W.E.’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Indeed, judging by early reviews, Madonna apparently has done just that by crafting one of the most inadvertently ridiculous films of the year, selflessly putting all of the scrutiny on herself and, according to the Guardian, and unintentionally making Simpson out to be an object of pity:
“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…. What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is.”
The Times Of London concurs, adding that it’s “screamingly, inadvertently funny in parts,” and that it “had ’em rolling in the aisles at Venice”—like the Guardian, singling out “a royal dream sequence in which King Edward puts Benzedrine in the champagne glasses of his tedious entourage, and soon a drugged-up Wallis dirty dances with a large, black tribesman to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant.’ Costume drama at its finest.” Offering some slightly kinder appraisal, The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy noted that film “feels artificial, programmed, rote,” and that it “most closely resembles a sumptuous documentary about a young beauty on an exclusive shopping expedition.” Which, yay, people like pretty girls and shopping.
However, W.E. did receive some support from The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, who stood up for its filmmaker in much the same way that Madonna stood up for Simpson, i.e. by decrying superficial judgment based on prejudice (“A lot of people will loathe it, simply because it’s been made by Madonna”) and finding common ground over a shared love of fabulous clothes (“It also happens to be one of the best-dressed movies of the year,” he says, before going on to call it “designer Viagra” and “interior design porn.”) More cautious was The Telegraph, who raved, “Occasional flashes of wit intrude,” and avowed that it’s “not without amusing moments,” both of which will look great on the poster.