Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. United Kingdom, 2011. Semtex Films, IM Global. Screenplay by Madonna, Alek Keshishian.Cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski.Produced by Madonna, Kris Thykier. Music by Abel Korzeniowski. Production Design by Martin Childs. Costume Design by Arianne Phillips. Film Editing by Danny Tull. Academy Awards 2011. Golden Globe Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
Everyone always talks about what Edward VIII gave up to marry Wallis Simpson, she tells us, but what about what she gave up to be with him? After deciding to marry the King of England, thereby forcing him to abdicate his throne for the twice-divorced American, Simpson no longer had her privacy or what little reputation remained to her, sometimes admired but often reviled for having rerouted the history of the British throne forever. This beautifully shot melodrama, the second directorial effort by Madonna, goes back and forth between two time periods: Simpson and the King’s relationship is shown in colourful flashbacks, while in 1998, Abbie Cornish attends the Sotheby’s auction of Simpson’s possessions and indulges a lifelong obsession she has always had with her. Madonna indulges herself in plenty of easy parallels (both women begin in abusive relationships) and never stops the camera from whirling around on beautiful objects, clothes and furniture, but she fails to really come up with a reason for why this story matters. Andrea Riseborough is stunning as Simpson, the only performance with any force and the only character in the film written with any gravitas, but the film is a very shallow look at some interesting points of a historical figure’s life. Making it less pleasant is a far less sympathetic modern-day section, in which Cornish’s marriage to an emotionally abusive doctor has all the depth and sincerity of low-grade daytime soap opera (it’s interesting that she’s always in skimpy lingerie every time her husband gets mad at her). It’s an incredibly vapid experience, with shots and themes directly stolen from other directors (Wong Kar Wai, Sofia Coppola come to mind, not to mention an unfortunate penchant for brainless montage that the filmmaker seems to have inherited from her ex-husband Guy Ritchie), and its aesthetic pleasures do very little to overcome its empty content.