Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
King Edward’s VIII’s abdication of the British throne for the woman he loved
What does it mean to be “the husband of one wife”? Answer
|Featuring:||Abbie Cornish … Wally Winthrop
Andrea Riseborough … Wallis Simpson
James D'Arcy … Edward
Oscar Isaac … Evgeni
Richard Coyle … William Winthrop
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Scott Franklin … executive producer
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The Weinstein Company
“In love… we trust.”
Not every story is what we think it is. In fact, it may be quite different from what we imagine.
Since her childhood, Wally (Abbie Cornish) has been obsessed with Wallis Simpson, the American divorcée for whom a prince left his kingdom. An unhappily married and bored socialite who cannot seem to get pregnant and is having marital problems with her brilliant husband (Richard Coyle), Wally spends her free time at the exhibit of Wallis and Edward’s things at the auction house. Through them, she encounters reflections of the life of the real Wallis (Andrea Riseborogh).
In the 1930s, Wallis and her good-natured husband attend a social event in which the Prince of Wales, “David” (James D'Arcy) to his friends, is in attendance. He is immediately captivated by her straightforwardness and fun-loving nature. But when his current mistress is forced to return to America for a short time, she instructs Wally to keep an eye on the prince for her. Instead, the pair of them become emotionally involved, and, as their relationship unfolds, it threatens to tear their nation apart on the eve of war.
I did not anticipate much from this film, particularly since so many secular critics have slammed it for everything from its narrative style to its choice in music. To my surprise, Madonna has written and directed an engaging film that works on multiple levels. It is about the loss of innocence, as Wally comes to discover that no romance, no matter how wonderful in her mind, is without its difficulties. It is about keeping promises, as Wallis finds herself trapped with David after the scandal. It is about marriages that do and do not work, and the idea that love can be found in the most unexpected of places.
Much of what we know about Wallis and Edward is evident in their behavior at the time. Both were unpardonable egotists, and their letters to one another read like juvenile fits of denial. This movie does its best to paint them in a different light, but is never so romanticized that it overlooks their faults. It does, however, push aside how cruel David was to his stuttering younger brother Bertie, and minimizes the Nazi sympathizer angle to a brief argument. The one thing it cannot do is put aside the fact that this love affair began with adultery.
Even though there is not much sexual content, both stories, as they unfold, wind up centered on the leading ladies having relationships outside their marriage. Wally, we discover, is in an abusive marriage, and seeks the comfort of a kind security guard (Oscar Isaac). Wallis, on the other hand, is in a happy marriage… but her husband does not put up much of a fight. Because of this, the audience gets the sense that the actions of each woman are all right. As Christians, we know differently. We know how adultery works. It destroys lives. It puts asunder unions God cemented together. It is one of the few things He told us to expressly avoid.
There is a big difference in the content one can find in R-rated films. This is one of the lighter uses of the rating that I have seen. There are a few scenes of kissing and foreplay between a married couple (she hopes to get pregnant, and appears in her lingerie). David puts drugs into champagne glasses at a party, and manages to get Wallis to dance for everyone (she tucks up her skirt and shows a lot of leg). A security guard sees a naked backside on camera, as a man flourishes his kilt and sits down at a piano. There are five f-words, one nasty term for a woman, one abuse of Jesus” name, and a couple uses of s**t. The rating itself comes from a horrific scene in which a husband drags his naked wife from the bathtub (upper and side nudity is seen) and punches her to the floor; he kicks her, resulting in a miscarriage. Later, the scene is repeated (clothed) with Wally, whose husband hits her repeatedly and kicks her on the floor.
Since so much of the movie has restraint and good taste, it seems an odd choice to include nudity at the start. The costuming is gorgeous, and there are some lovely performances from both the leads and minor characters. The movie does not take a stance on Wallis and Edward so much as present them to us and ask us to make up our own mind. The interaction between the modern Wally and the past Wallis is surprisingly effective. I was surprised, in the end, how much I enjoyed it.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.