Venice Critics Slap and Slam Madonna’s ‘W.E.’ With Rather Harsh Reviews


Photo: The Weinstein Co.

With a packed screening schedule in Toronto there are certain “anticipated” films I would be forced to miss. On Monday, September 12, I am currently looking at a morning that includes six films screening at the exact same time. Among them are The Deep Blue Sea, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Albert Nobbs, Shame, The Day and finally, Madonna’s W.E., a biopic about the affair between King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) that led to the British royal abdicating the throne to marry his divorcee lover.

What do I do? Which one of those six should I watch in that time slot? Well, critics in Venice may have just helped clear one of the titles from the schedule for me to worry about seeing outside the festival.

This morning, Madonna’s second directorial effort, W.E., premiered on the Lido and has received a couple of mild slaps and a couple of harsh slams. The worst of the lot comes from Oliver Littleton at The Playlist and Xan Brooks at The Guardian.

We’ll begin with Brooks whose review teaser pretty much sums things up with “Madonna’s jaw-dropping take on the story of Wallis Simpson is a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled.” He opens his review as follows:

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.

Or could it be that Madonna is in deadly earnest here? If so, her film is more risible than we had any right to expect; a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock. Andrea Riseborough stars as Wallis, the perky American social climber who meets Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) in London, where she is drawn like a magnet to his pursed lips and peevish air.

Continuing over to Littleton’s slam I’ve pulled a few snippets:

The script is the first problem. Co-written with Alek Keshishian, it’s laden with clichés and clunky exposition from the off, with some moments drawing laughs from the Venice audience. […]

Of course, some of these problems could have been ironed out by the right director, but it 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.” […]

All in all, we can only imagine that the Weinsteins bought the film sight unseen, or that they’re hoping to make a fast buck off the back of The King’s Speech, because despite a couple of solid performances, the film can’t be redeemed. We’ve never looked forward to Madonna going back on tour more, if only because it means that we’ll know, for certain, that she won’t be using that time to direct another movie.

David Gritten at The Telgraph and Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter aren’t as harsh, but in no way do they paint a pretty picture.

McCarthy refers to Abbie Cornish as Winthrop saying “the film most closely resembles a sumptuous documentary about a young beauty on an exclusive shopping expedition.” He reserves more kudos for Riseborough as Wallis, describing her performance as being “played with distinction and an almost poignant sense of resignation.” He too, however, can’t find time to be too glowing as he says the film looks like an “expensive music video” and outside of some of the performances the film “feels artificial, programmed, rote.

Gritten is most kind, but he may not have been expecting much as he opens his review saying “W.E. is rather better than expected; it’s bold, confident and not without amusing moments.” Although even he focuses on the melodrama and says it looks like “high-end cosmetics commercials.”

If I were to look for Oscar consideration here I would say it’s all but lost as performances from Riseborough, Cornish and even Oscar Isaac seem to be applauded, but for the most part the film ruins much, if any chance, for nominations.

W.E. played out of competition in Venice and will play Toronto before hitting theaters on December 9, which seems to be a closer date to when I will now see it as seeing it in Toronto seems unnecessary at this point. For more information on the film click here.