It seemed like W.E was one of those films everybody loved to hate, particularly because it was directed by Madonna. I did not have high hopes for it but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it in the end. The costumes were wonderful and probably my favourite aspect of the film, as I found myself screen-capping them obsessively. The plot makes sense although the script is quite bad in certain places but I generally found that when it threatened to collapse under the weight of one cliché too many, it was saved by the acting, which was great. It was a very obvious film and you knew exactly where it was going but I do not count that as a weakness in this case, just as not knowing exactly where the film is going needn’t be bad thing either (I’m looking at you, Peter Greenaway.) The soundtrack was fairly awful however (not counting the original score) as it tried to pull off modern music in a period setting, so successfully done in Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but failed.
W.E has been criticised for being too commercial, for only appealing to young girls who are obsessed with fashion and been described as a documentary of a woman out on shopping. Although I agree that it occasionally seemed like it was written so that the characters could sport a new set of clothes or a new hairstyle, I believe this was a conscious decision and that dismissing this as vain would be like dismissing women’s preoccupation with appearance throughout history as vanity instead of enlightened consumerism (which it sadly happens quite often, I might add.)
The film was quite self-indulgent, but in a different way than I had anticipated. Personally I thought the whole “let’s tell the story from Wallis’ point of view”-narrative worked, and that it was less about history as such and more a story of a woman living in the public gaze, like Madonna herself. What she is attempting with this film should not go unnoticed, no matter whether it is considered a cinematic or commercial success or not. One should rather pay attention to the fact that history (to a certain extent) and popular culture (to a very large extent) has a habit of chosing male heroes, to concentrate the story around some royal, politician, poet, anyone who can successfully be interpreted as a personification of the Zeitgeist of whatever era the film or novel is set in, and assign female characters to small roles, pushed to the background where they exist purely to support the hero or illustrate his character. Rarely does a woman feature as the hero – as a fully fleshed out, three dimensional character with a complex personality and an agency of her own.
But I digress – my point is that popular history very much attributes Wallis the characteristics of a dark haired, well dressed, strict looking home-wrecker and just leaves it at that without questioning the historical criticism against her in the light of 20th century sexism or the strict decorum of the British monarchy. Also, I do not recall the critics making such a fuss when Tom Ford’s A Single Man came out, a film which is also completely preoccupied with fashion and personal appearance.
To sum it up: W.E is not an intellectual film nor does it offer a detailed politicised portrayal of the era in which it is set, but ultimately history is sexist so who gives a shit.