DVD Release Date: May 1, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: February 3, 2012 (limited); February 10, 2012 (wider)
Rating: R (for some domestic violence, nudity and language)
Genre: Biopic, Romance, Drama
Run Time: 119 min.
Director: Madonna
Actors: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle, Christina Chong

Royal scandal. Abdication of the throne. A life of ignominy. And that’s only half the story in W.E., Madonna’s attempt to tie together two romances separated by more than half a century. It’s an odd conceit that Madonna, the film’s director and co-writer, never justifies, even as her story of troubled love and second chances shows promise for her as a filmmaker.

Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish, Limitless) is at a breaking point. In the New York of the late 1990s, she takes an interest in Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough, Never Let Me Go), the woman with whom England’s King Edward VIII had an affair and for whom he abdicated his throne. (These events were portrayed as a subplot in last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech, which starred Guy Pearce as Edward VIII and Eve Best as Wallis Simpson.) In W.E., Wallis, a woman who has been abused and mistreated, divorces husband Ernest (David Harbour, The Green Hornet) and marries Edward (James D’Arcy). Wally takes courage in Wallis’ story (Wally’s mother and grandmother were obsessed with Wallis Simpson, she explains) and finds a way out of her own troubled marriage to William Winthrop (Richard CoylePrince of Persia: The Sands of Time).

Among the problems with the film is the way it cuts back and forth between its two stories and eras. Starting in Shanghai in 1924, the film skips to 1948, goes back to 1931, lands twice in 1936 and keeps cutting to life in a different city, shifting between these earlier scenarios to the film’s more modern 1998 New York storyline.

Another problem is the equivalency drawn between the story of Wally—a woman in a troubled marriage who feels betrayed by her husband because, in part, she says she gave up her career for him—and Wallis, whose romance engulfed a country and brought shame to its leaders. The film dares to have the two women speak to each other across time, with the film’s concluding message having something to do with the great sacrifices women make in the shadow of powerful men.