While rather good at singing and dancing, Madonna's forays into film, both in front of and behind the camera, have been greeted, to put it politely, with mixed reaction. Madonna is not exactly an auteur, with a style body of work to be analyzed in the traditional sense. So, let's simplify things and just go with pros and cons. Pros: the movie itself is gorgeous. It's shot on crisp 16mm film, the clothing – in particular the 1930's women's clothes, with all the flapper dresses – are exquisite and the 30's era jewelry is dazzling.
The stately homes are lavish and majestic, the filming locations of England and France completely picturesque. Even the beautiful actors all make for a stunning visual feast. Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson is a real delight – she is lovely and with a charming, impish quality delivers the best performance in the film. There's just one little con – the plot. Taking her sophomore stab at directing, Madonna is so focused on delivering a beautiful product, that she forgets about the script, and the plot itself is quite flimsy.
The film juxtaposes, and tries (keyword) to intertwine two stories, one of which is, of course, the love story of King Edward VIII (played by James D'Arcy) and Wallis Simpson, an American woman. The two met and had a mad love affair in 1930's England, which is considered one of the most scandalous and profound of the 20th Century. It was all very controversial and shocking, given that Wallis was married when she met, fell in love with and took up with the King. She ended up eventually divorcing her husband, though it took awhile and she was never really accepted by the royal family.
The other story takes place in New York in the late 90's and centers on a young woman, Wally Winthrop (Abby Cornish), who is being neglected by her cheating husband. Starved for love and attention, and because she was named after Wallis Simpson, she becomes obsessed with Edward and Wallis' love affair. Wally is in awe of how in love they were – how Edward was so “possessed” with Wallis – that he abdicated the throne in order to be with her. She visits the exhibition at an auction house of Edward and Wallis' items constantly, where she meets a Russian security guard with who she begins her own affair.
There are parts of the film where Wally's sees Wallis (in her mind) and talks to her, which is just confusing and cheesy. There were several scenes where the two interact that are supposed to be dramatic and serious, and the audience's response was literally laughter. That's not a good sign. The clichéd dialogue didn't help in that regard, either. There is no question that it is a stunning film. If she'd only spent as much time on the script as she did on the look, she could have possibly created a more fleshed-out and believable picture, rather than one that stands as pretty but deeply unengaging.