Madonna’s take on Wallis Simpson is a mixed bag

Cert: 15 ***

Madonna’s second bash at directing has taken a lot of flak. Surprisingly, though, it isn’t as bad as you might think. W.E. follows the love affair between King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) and American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). Seen through the eyes of Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) as she mopes around an exhibition of the late Duchess’s possessions, Madonna tracks this notorious relationship while Winthrop’s own marriage becomes increasingly abusive.

It’s a flawed film but Madonna coaxes strong performance from her cast – especially from Riseborough – and delivers a sumptuous visual style and daring vision. W.E. is about a woman in love, challenging the popular view of Wallis as a money-grabbing social climber.

It falls down, though, with the superfluous contemporary plot and the overlong running time. Cornish does a fine job as Mrs Winthrop, but the interest doesn’t lie with her, it’s with the effortlessly charming Wallis. Are we supposed to draw links between the two relationships? They’re not particularly similar and it all feels a bit forced. Madonna concentrates too heavily on the wooing of Wallis, rushing the exile and her eventual disappointment, making her look petulant, distinctly at odds with the intended presentation of her as a likeable victim.

W.E. is uneven yet funny, historically questionable but often poignant and – final half hour aside – rarely dull. She may take a lot of flak, but the Material Girl’s come up with a flawed but interesting tale.