W./E. (2011)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Madonna.

Starring:     Abbie Cornish (Wally Winthrop), Andrea Riseborough (Wallis Simpson), James D'Arcy (Edward), Oscar Isaac (Evgeni), Richard Coyle (William Winthrop), David Harbour (Ernest), James Fox (King George V), Judy Parfitt (Queen Mary), Haluk Bilginer (Mohamed Al-Fayed),  Geoffrey Palmer (Stanley Baldwin), Natalie Dormer (Elizabeth), Laurence Fox (Bertie), Douglas Reith (Lord Brownlow), Katie McGrath (Lady Thelma), Christina Chong (Tenten).

 in 1936 King Edward VIII abdicates in favor of marrying the former Mrs. Simpson

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

"Some people called it the greatest love story of the 20th century.  The king who gave up his throne for the woman he loved.  Wallis Simpson, as she was known, was not distinguished by great beauty, money or class.  But 40 years later, she would spark a constitutional crisis when the King of England, Edward VIII, decided to abdicate in order to marry this twice-divorced American woman.  Exiled and striped of a kingdom, they became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  The romantic legend lives on today."

Wallis and Winfield Spencer, Shanghai, 1924. 

Wally and William Winthrop, Manhattan 1998. 

"Wallis had been married twice before her romance with the prince.  Her first husband, Navy Lieutenant Earl Winfield Spencer, swept Wallis off to the exotic world of Shanghai in 1924.  The marriage ended in divorce three years later."

In Shanghai Lt. Spencer grabs his wife by her hair and pulls her up out of the tub where she was bathing.  He says he wants his food now!  Wallis says she waited six hours for her husband.  He slaps her hard across the bathroom and kicks his pregnant wife in the mid-section.  (some nudity)  He says:  "I'm hungry."  She lays there bleeding. 

In New York City, the head of a foundation at a fancy dinner offers a toast to Dr. William Winthrop for his work on behalf of terminally ill children.  Mrs. Winthrop, known as Wally, gets up from the table to go to the bathroom.  (Wally was named for Wallace Simpson.)

"Her name was Bessie Wallis Warfield.  She was born into a poor, Southern family on June 19th, 1896.  40 years later, the King of England, the handsome and dashing Edward VIII, fell in love and decided to marry this American woman."

Manhattan.  Wally hears that Sotheby's is auctioning off thousands of items once belonging to Wallis and Edward.  She goes down to Sotheby's to the auction.  Wallis looks at a fancy table cloth. 

Bois de Boulogne 1948.  The fancy table cloth is spread out on a long table. 

Manhattan 1998.  Wally looks over many more items at the auction.  When she gets home she tells her husband that she went to the fertility doctor today.  The diagnosis is that she needs to relax.  She says she wants to go through IVF (in vitro fertilization). 

At a night club Wally talks with William about Wallis and Edward.  William says that they were Nazis or at least Nazi sympathizers.  They met Hitler in Germany in the 1930s.  Wally says this was because Edward was desperate to avoid a war.  Then the doctor is called to the hospital. 

Back home Wally calls the hospital and asks to speak with her husband.  She is informed that the doctor is not in the hospital. 

Wallis and Ernest Simpson, London, 1931.  The couple is going to a party given by Thelma, one of Wallis' friends, for the Prince of Wales.  Only his family call the Prince David.  Thelma's place is a mansion. 

Wallis dances with her husband, while David dances with Connie. At Wallis' first opportunity, she switches partners with Connie and dances with David.  The Prince starts almost immediately to flirt with Wallis.  Later he asks if all American girls are such good dancers?  She replies that she doesn't know for she hasn't danced with many.  David laughs. 

New York.  Wally is back at the auction looking at the Wallis and Edward collection.  A security guard really takes an interest in the good-looking Wallis.  He watches as she starts to walk out of the building.  He brings her umbrella to her that she left behind.  He introduces himself as Evgeni Kolpakov.  She introduces herself as Wally Winthrop.  She smiles at him. 

Wally does research on Wallis and Edward.  "Wallis had already left the country and had arrived in France.  The ex-king went to Austria to begin his exile.  They spent the next five months apart.  She was with friends on the Riviera.  But he sent her dozens of letters and telephoned every day."  A man who knew the couple said:  "I have never known, in the course of all knowledge, one person so utterly possessed by another as he was by her."

Wally dresses up like Wallis.  Wally imagines that Wallis is with her in her make-up room and says that Wally is quite pretty.  Nobody ever called her (Wallis) beautiful or even pretty.  Wally says she thinks Wallis was pretty.  This conversation is interrupted by Wally's husband who tells her it looks like she is pretending to be somebody she's not.  Wally starts questioning her husband as to where has he been these last few nights.  He doesn't want to answer her questions.  He says she's dressed like a whore. Doesn't she know that?  She says she doesn't, but he certainly knows through experience.  For this her husband grabs her throat with one hand and pushes her down to the floor. 

England.  Wallis' husband Ernest says he can't compete with the Duke of Windsor. 

Wales, 1936.  A news reel says that the King received a marvelous reception in South Wales in that depressed area.  "He traveled through the desolate villages of the Rhondda, Monmouth Valleys.  The whole region was dying from want of work."  A reporter shouts to His Highness what does he think about South Wales?  He says these people are decent men and women, living in indecent conditions.  Something must be done about it!  This gets the Prince of Wales in some trouble because he is not supposed to make political observations. 

Edward is over at Wallis' place.  They talk about Wales for awhile.  Wallis' husband comes in and Wallis offers him a martini too.  Then other guests arrive and Wallis fixes more martinis. 

Wally goes back again to the Wallis and Edward display.  And, as always, the guard watches her on his camera displays. 

Thelma and Wallis alone discuss Edward.  Thelma says she only calls him David.  And he took her to the opera last night.  She says she hates the idea that David will be all alone while she is in America for three months.  Thelma asks Wallis to look after David in her absence in America. 

Her husband brings Wally some red roses and apologizes for being such a jerk to her the other day.  They start having sex, but William stops it.  He says he's under too much pressure to get Wally pregnant.  He goes on to say maybe he doesn't want a kid.  He leaves.  She cries. 

Wallis tells David that Thelma is devoted to him and she hopes he doesn't believe this gossip of Thelma and Prince Aly Khan (a socialite, racehorse owner and jockey).  David says Thelma's devoted to him, her husband and now this camel jockey.  David is also upset about an incident in the House of Commons where he was called a socialist.  Wallis says she thinks the work that David does is very important.  Everyone should have at least a roof over their heads.  David is impressed.  He says she's the only woman that ever showed any interest in his work.  Ernest comes in and is a bit disturbed to see His Royal Highness in his place once again. 

Wally asks her friend Tenten about her admiring guard.  Tenten says he's a Russian intellectual slumming as a security guard.  She adds he's a dime a dozen. 

Ernest doesn't want to go to Thelma's coming home party.  He tells his wife that he hopes she will not ignore him all night again.  After he leaves, Wallis writes in lipstick on the mirror:  "W.E."   A little later she wipes the lipstick off the mirror.

Asquith House, 1934.  At Thelma's dinner, it's hard for Thelma to get to talk to the Prince.  He seems to always be talking to Wallis.  She keeps trying, but David just doesn't seem to really be interested in her.  David moves his chair back to get up from the table and the chair leg tears Wallis' dress.  She scolds David for this to the shock of high society.  Here's a commoner scolding the Prince of Wales and calling him David.  Now they realize that the relationship between the Prince and Wallis is a very close one indeed.  Thelma is really shocked.  So shocked and upset, that she leaves the table without a word. 

The Russian guard goes down to see Wally as she looks at the displays. 

Meurice Hotel, Paris, 1936.  As Wallis listens in on the conversation about her between David and Ernest, she hears David saying that Ernest has been a very decent chap about this matter.  Ernest seems to know when he has been replaced.  He leaves the room. 

Cartier Workshop, 1936.  The Prince of Wales looks over the workmanship of the jewelry makers.    They go out horse riding and David gives Wallis the piece of Cartier jewelry. 

Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera), 1936.  The two lovers play together and kiss each other on the French Riviera. 

Portofino.  A commune located in the province of Genoa on the Italian Riviera.  The Prince keeps giving her crucifixes made with expensive gems.  He and Wallis pose for photos.  Wallis is worried that these photos will get back to England.  David is not worried about it. 

Windsor Castle.  The photos are shown to David's mother by the Prime Minister of Britain, Stanley Baldwin, who served from 1935 to 1937.  She is very upset by them. 

Wallis walks down the street and sees the newspaper headlines and photos of herself and the Prince of Wales.  She goes back to her apartment.  (Wally images Wallis passing by her and telling her to get a life.)

Manhattan.  The guard awakens Wally from her daydream.  She tells him she doesn't know what's wrong with her.  The guard suggests they go get a cup of coffee and talk during his break.  They go.  Wally tells him that her mother named her after Wallis Simpson.  He tells her that he was married before. 

Back at home William calls Wally and tells her he's got so much work that he won't be home tonight.  Wally hangs up on him. She starts throwing away a lot of pills and she cuts her hands on some glass while doing so.  She wakes up in bed with a bandaged hand. 

Wallis and David have lunch with David's brother and sister-in-law.  She tells David later that they will never accept her.  David asks:  "You're gonna let Bertie and Elizabeth dictate our future?"  Wallis says it's not just them; it's everyone.  She wants David to stop talking about marriage to her because neither his family nor the prime minister will stand for the marriage.  The Prince replies:  "Then, I'll give up the throne."  She says:  "And I will be the most despised woman in the world."  He disagrees and she says that he's delusional. 

Windsor Castle, 1936.  David overhears his father and mother and Elizabeth talking about him and Wallis.  Father says that David always had the most atrocious taste in women.  Elizabeth says she doesn't believe that David would actually marry Wallis.  Dad says that nothing must stand between the throne and Bertie and Elizabeth.  David was going to have dinner with them, but he turns around and leaves.  He passes by Bertie as he descends the steps.  Bertie asks him what he is going to tell Dad about David not showing up for dinner?  David tells Bertie to tell Dad that David has lost his appetite.  David continues walking down the stairs. 

The guard approaches Wally again.  He says he wants to show her something in the preview area, but she has to wait until after closing hours.  After hours he takes her up to an area where he gives her some champagne and plays the piano for her.  Later they dance together.

King George V dies in 1936.  The popular Prince Edward ascends the throne.  But the newly crowned king intends to marry an American commoner.  The King's decision has constituted a  congressional crisis.  Prime Minister says the marriage cannot take place on pain of abdication.  Wallis says she gave up a lot too.  Her privacy, her freedom and her reputation.  Wally says:  "The whole world turned against her, but she never backed down." 

Evgeni walks Wally home.  She comes home, but William is not there. 

The next day Wally goes to the actual auction.

David asks Wallis to get up and do a dance for him.  She does so and it's a pretty good dance. 

David takes Wallis with him to visit the Prime Minister.  Photographers ask her how is her husband and another calls her a Yankee harlot. 

Wally registers as a bidder.  She buys gloves worn by Wallis for $10,000 dollars.  When she gets back, her husband confronts her about her spending $11,000 dollars at Sotheby's.  She says she will pay for it out of her account.  He says it's all his money and she should have asked for his permission.  Wally changes the subject by switching to asking him why won't he have sex with her?  She also asks him if he is having an affair with another woman?  She wants to know where he goes every night. This all ends up with violence once again. 

Wallis begs David to please let her go.  Together they can only bring about disaster.  David says he has already decided to abdicate his position as King.  She hangs up on him. 

Wallis writes David a letter saying that she must really return to Ernest.  She will suffer now, but she will be a happier, calmer old lady. 

The last item of the auction is up for bidding.  It's the desk where King Edward delivered his final speech as king of England.  They play the speech for the bidders. 

"At long last, I'm able to say a few words of my own.  I've never wanted to withhold anything, but until now, it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak.  A few hours ago, I discharged my last duty as king and emperor.  And now that I have been succeeded by my brother, the Duke of York, my first words must be to declare may allegiance to him, this I do with all my heart.  You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the throne.  But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country, or the Empire, which, as Prince of Wales, and lately as king, I have, for 25 years, tried to serve.  But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king without the help and support of the woman I love.  This decision has been made less difficult to me by the sure knowledge that my brother, with his long training in the public affairs of this country, will be able to take my place without interruption or injury to the life and progress of the Empire.  And he has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by so many of you, and not bestowed on me:  a happy home with his wife and children.  Ever since I was Prince of Wales, and later on when I occupied the throne, I have been treated with the greatest kindness by all classes of the people wherever I have lived or journeyed throughout the Empire.  For that, I am very grateful.  I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden.  And now, we all have a new king.  I wish him and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart.  God bless you all.  God save the king." 

Evgeni is worried because Wally did not show up for the last day of the auction.  He walks out of the auction and starts running up the street to her apartment building.  He gets past the fellow at the front desk and goes up and knocks on her door.  He finds her crouched over by her bed.  He asks her who did this to you?

Fort Belvedere 1936.  Wallis packs up all her things.  She is getting away in a hurry. 

A beaten up Wally travels on the subway. She is with Evgeni. 

Wallis switches to another vehicle. 

Aix en Provence, a city-commune in the south of France, about 30 km (19 mi) north of Marseille.  Wallis arrives at her destination and there are reporters all over the place.  Her aide tells her to get on the floor of the car to hide.  He puts a blanket over her.  They get through to the mansion. 

Wally goes with Evgeni to his apartment to stay awhile.  He shows her the bedroom for her.  She goes in and closes the door.  Wally asks Evgeni what happened to his wife?  He says, she died two years ago.  Evgeni plays the piano for her. 

In the morning Evgeni leaves to go to work leaving Wally behind.  She starts looking around the loft apartment.  She then walks on the street filled with lots of different ethnic groups.  At night she lays on the couch. Later she crawls onto the couch where Evgeni is sleeping.  They go to the floor and start kissing each other.

Wally writes a letter to William.  Wallis writes a letter to Ernest asking for him to find it in his heart to forgive her. 

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, South of France, 1937.  David and Wallis are married. 

Evgeni takes Wally out to a Russian eatery.  Later they play pool and kiss in a corner of the room.  At work the next day she sees in the newspaper an article about Al-Fayed's secret treasure.  He has the private letters of the Duke and Duchess.  She calls up Tenten to see if she can get in to see Al-Fayed so that she can ask him if she can read the letters.  Tenten arranges it and Wally takes a plane to Paris.  Evgeni asks her why does she need to read the letters?  Wally says she needs to find something out.

Maurice Hotel Paris.  Wally goes in to see the Duke and Duchess suite.  She likes to touch things.  She writes WE on the mirror.

The Duke and Duchess want to come home to England, but nobody wants them to come home.   David can't get through to his brother Bertie at all.

Buckingham Palace, 1939.  Elizabeth tells people handling the phone to tell Edward that the king is otherwise engaged.  Bertie wants to talk to David, but Elizabeth says the last thing Bertie needs is his brother, the Nazi, dashing around England with that trollop of a wife.  Bertie is offended by this and says his brother is not a Nazi.  Elizabeth wins out. 

David is furious and calls this a degradation:  "I'm being kept out of England by my own brother."  Wallis is more perceptive and says they just don't want a legend coming back to England and stealing Bertie's thunder.  Wallis starts to cry:  "What kind of life do you think we're going to have, wandering around as the world's most celebrated parasites!"  She rushes to the bedroom. 

Wally dreams that she tries to comfort Wallis, but Wallis gets mad at her and says that this is not some kind of fairy tale.  She slaps Wally as she says:  "Wake up!"  Wally wakes up. 

Wally goes to talk with Al-Fayed about the hundreds of letters.  She explains that she wants to tell Wallis' story from her own viewpoint, to show what she had to give up by being with Edward.  He asks her to let him think about it. 

Wally gets permission to read the letters.  The letters are in a box on the table.  In the letters Wallis tells how tough her life with David was.  David is depressed by the behavior of his family.  And they still are criticized for being supporters of Hitler, which they were not.  Poor David is often inconsolable.  And she feels suffocated by his constant attention, like a child.  He just doesn't feel useful to anyone.  "He used me to escape his prison, only to incarcerate me in my own."

The doctors say Wallis needs a period of complete rest to help restore her health.  She herself is depressed and tired of it all. She feels that she does not deserve this cold isolation treatment "by decent society".  She often cries. 

Wally seems very moved by the terrible sufferings of both Wallis and David. 

Bois de Boulogne 1972.  David is in his sick bed receiving oxygen through a mask.  He tells his wife that he wants her to dance for him.  She dances to the music of the Twist dance movement by Chubby Checker. 

The doctor says she has some very good new for Wally, which probably means that Wally is pregnant.

Wally and Wallis sit down on a bench together.  She asks Wallis if she thinks once can change their destiny?  Wallis says Wally already knows the answer to that question.  The two go their different ways.  Wally gets a call from Evgeni welcoming her back to New York City.  He says he missed her.  She gets a big smile on her face and says that she has good news for Evgeni. 

"After 35 years of marriage the Duke of Windsor died in 1972.  For the first time since the abdication, the Duchess was invited back to England for the funeral.  The Duchess died at home in Paris in 1986.  She was returned to England and buried alongside the Duke at Windsor Castle."

 

Now this is a sad movie, but we learn something new about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after their marriage.  The film is valuable because it gives you a sense of what life was like for the two people.  In short, it was very rough.  Now an interesting question is was King Edward VIII an immature person.  Now that label is not very helpful and insightful, but one does wonder about it.  Hey, maybe some people were never meant to be king.  They don't have the "right stuff" for being king and maybe that's the case with Edward.  One thing for certain is that he himself did not think long and hard about what was going to happen to him after his abdication.  He was basically shunned by, as Wallis says, decent society.   He thought he could go back to England and be given a respectable job in the government.  Wallis had warned him that they would be pariahs in society from now on.  But, they say love is blind and being crazy sick.  Edward acted without really thinking ahead.  Would he have run away with Wallis if he knew how miserable he would be for the rest of his life?  Probably not. 

Maybe Edward had a personality disorder that made him so possessed by a woman that he could not think beyond she, herself and her.   Some psychiatrists/psychologists says this type of love is not really "true" love.  Some people can't think beyond their disorders.  Rather they are consumed by their disorders. 

I have no idea, but an American woman, named Madonna, married a British film director and lived with him in the more stuffy society of Britain's upper classes.  She must have felt the disapproval of many upper class Brits toward her, wild girl, singer and actress, as she was and is.  This story must have captured Madonna's interest because her story and Wallis' story were so similar in many ways.  And Madonna was not all that happy with her own marriage and she got out of it.  By telling Wallis's story she could tell how much she, like Wallis, suffered from the marriage.  What did Madonna have to give up to live in a different country and at a different social class level?  Maybe I'm way off, but it is a possibility I think.  And good therapy for Madonna.

I felt very bad for both David and Wallis, regardless if they were immature or not.  In the film it seems that Madonna was saying it's better for Wally to take charge of her own destiny without concern that one may miss out on certain things enjoyed by the rich and wealthy. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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