In W.E. the build-up to the abdication is told in tandem with a more contemporary story, set in the 1990s, where a young American woman, Wally (Abbie Cornish), is trapped in a loveless, abusive marriage. She is obsessed with Edward and Mrs Simpson (her namesake) and begins to research their relationship in the run-up to a New York auction of artefacts owned by the couple.
“Wally wants to understand the nature of Edward and Mrs Simpson’s love story. When she says ‘I wonder what it was like to have been loved that much?’ I think I probably said that to myself.”
“Men want power and they will kill to have it. If you look back in history, how many wars have been waged to win the throne? And here’s a man who walked away from that for love. And so for a romantic like me, I would say ‘Wow, to be loved like that!’ And Wally feels the same way – she wants to be loved like that.”
In flashback, we see how Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) herself suffered violence at the hands of her first husband and, arriving in London, is drawn into the glamorous social scene with Edward (James D’Arcy) at the centre.
The film has already had mixed reviews from the festivals in Venice and Toronto and some have been harsh. But you can’t help but wonder whether, if it had been made by an unknown, first-time director, the reviews would have been entirely different and, quite possibly, more favourable. But the flip side is that W.E. wouldn’t generate the kind of publicity blitz it has if Madonna wasn’t the director.
And while this certainly isn’t a rival to The King’s Speech, which is set in the same period and involves many of the same royals, it isn’t as bad as some of those early reviews claim. It’s beautifully filmed and has been nominated for two Golden Globes, for best original score, by Abel Korzeniowski, and best original song, Masterpiece, co-written by Madonna.
“I’m well aware that everything I say and do is judged with a different measuring stick to most other people,” she says. “I’m under the magnifying glass in a way that other people aren’t, but I can also use that. I can influence people.”
And at the heart of her film is the story that has transfixed generations – a man who gave up the throne for love. “I’ve been asked many times if I would give up everything for love,” she says. “And I think it’s important to understand that with love, and in all relationships, you have to give up something.”
“What Edward gave up was huge, monumental, but I also don’t think that he realised that when he abdicated he was never going to be allowed to come back into the country, that he was never going to be able to serve his country in any way, shape or form.”
“But we live in a different time now, so we have the luxury and the ability to be able to do several things, to have careers and families, and to love. Although it is a juggling act and you have to make compromises.”
Her latest partner, dancer Brahim Zaibat, is just 24 and that has produced another flurry of stories. But while she’s not about to reveal if she plans to make him husband number three, she clearly believes that love can flourish whatever the barriers – whether that be age difference or, in the case of Wallis and Edward, social standing.
“There is no such thing as perfect love but on the other hand I do believe in romance. I do believe in true love and I do believe it is possible for everyone if you are willing to make compromises.”
She doesn’t dwell on the past or, indeed, the various incarnations that she’s projected on to the world. Will the real Madonna please stand up? Probably not, because keeping us all guessing has been a crucial part of her success.
“I don’t think much about me in the past to tell you the truth,” she says. “Because I’m too busy looking forward.”
And doubtless, with a new single and album due in March, the highly coveted live appearance during the Superbowl in February and tentative plans to direct another film, there will be another Madonna with us soon.
© Radio Times