Andrea Riseborough and Madonna at the 69th Golden Globe Awards, where the film received two nominations and won Best Original Song.
In June 2011, Alison Boshoff from Daily Mail reported that a test screening of W.E., which was kept under wraps, was said to have allegedly drawn up negative reception from its audience. Viewers believed the film did not add up and seemed more like an advertisement than what its production values were. After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, it received mixed reviews. Some news sources reported that "critics were completely divided on their opinions". When nine reviews of the critics who had seen the film in Venice were tabulated, The Huffington Post gave the film the overall critical score of D. Steve Pond of Reuters theorized that W.E probably would not help in "turning Madonna's faltering movie career". Kyle Buchanan of New York wondered whether W.E. would receive any significant film related awards, as predicted by industry prognosticators. He concluded that the film "still may [receive awards], but to judge from some of the vicious pans coming out of Venice today, it might have longer legs as a Razzie front-runner." Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye gave the film a mostly positive review, saying that "A lot of people will loathe it, simply because it’s been made by Madonna. But if people were to watch it with no knowledge of who directed, they would be pleasantly surprised. They might even find much of it enjoyable." David Gritten of The Daily Telegraph gave the film three stars and a mixed review stating that, "Madonna's W.E. is a bold and confident story about an American woman's obsession with the Windsors." Gritten complimented Riseborough and Cornish's acting but felt that the film looked like a commercial of expensive items, thus making it appeal to younger women for its fashion portrayal.
Negative reviews came from Xan Brooks of The Guardian, who gave the film one star, describing it as "a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock. Brooks predicted that the film "may even surpass 2008's Filth and Wisdom, Madonna's calamitous first outing as a film-maker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all." Pointing out a scene, he added that "Wallis bound on stage to dance with a Masai tribesman while Pretty Vacant blares on the soundtrack. But why? What point is she making? That social-climbing Wallis-Simpson was the world's first punk-rocker?"Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film resembled a documentary of a woman out on shopping. McCarthy felt that the storyline was especially dreary during the portrayal of the love affair between Wally and Evgeni. "For the audience, Wally, despite Cornish's gentle and warm presence, offers very little in terms of personal interest or as a key into the world of one of the last century's most discussed couples." However, McCarthy praised cinematographer Hagen Bogdaski's work. Oliver Lyttelton of indieWire also slammed the film stating that "the use of music is horrible" and "We’ve never looked forward to Madonna going back on tour more, if only because it means that we’ll know, for certain, that she won’t be using that time to direct another movie." Emma Pritchard from Grazia added that "Wallis Simpson was the kind of woman who was accused of being more style than substance – and that, alas, is what Madonna has recreated on screen with W.E." Mark Adams of Screen Daily singled out Riseborough's performance as a "highlight", but overall felt that the film was disappointing. Leslie Felperin from Variety was disappointed in the film, saying that it is "burdened with risible dialogue and weak performances". Felperin felt that the reason for the film's downfall was its script, which attended to the costumes and fashion more than the actual story, which she felt had much potential, but was unused.
After its release, W.E. again faced negative reviews. Currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of just 17%, being certified "rotten" by critics out of fifty-nine reviews. It also has a Metacritic score of 36/100, indicating generally unfavorable reviews
Colin Kennedy from Metro called the film "disastrous", noting the film's "judicious casting and handsome design [were] marred by a callow director’s shaky shot selection." Adam Woodward of Little White Lies panned the film as "an arrogant vanity project rendered laughable by its kitschy sycophancy."Simon Reynolds of Digital Spy described the film as "impeccably turned out with exquisite costume design", but felt it is "barely enough to disguise its wildly inconsistent tone, chop-change visual style and snoozy performances." Dan Carrier of Camden New Journal gave the film one out of five stars, saying that W.E. is "a horrible film to watch" and that Madonna "should never be allowed to go anywhere near a director’s camera again."
Positive review came from Diego Costa of Slant Magazine, who gave the film three out of four stars. He described the film as "a shameless visual pleasure", adding that it is a "perfectly fine piece of oneiric cinema. It puts forth, in fact, a kind of filmic écriture feminine so unabashedly consumed by "the look" and its world of artifices that we'd have to recognize, if we were to be critically fair and put our own hetero-sexist anxieties aside, that W.E. makes a mockery out of 'man's cinema'." Costa complimented Madonna's direction, calling her a "masterful aesthetician". Korzeniowski soundtrack was also commended, with Costa believing that it blended the scenes well. America Magazine argued that the film demonstrated Madonna's ambition for artistic gravitas and called it a more mature Blond Ambition Tour. It also pointed at a Catholic subtext, with the blood present in scenes of domestic violence paralleling the Blood of Christ in the Mary-like female characters. Damon Wise from Empire gave the film three out of five stars and commented on the harsh criticism against Madonna stating "A lot has been said about Madonna and her new film — about how bad and inept it is, as if it's somehow worse than 99 per cent of the other movies released on a weekly basis. That's right: up there with Showgirls. Let's give the director a break here." He complimented Riseborough's acting and that "In the short term, this will see W.E. dismissed as a vanity project but, in the long term, history may well find it to be a fascinating comment on 20th century celebrity from the ultimate insider."
Madonna's jaw-dropping take on the story of Wallis Simpson is a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 1 September 2011
Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis – it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna's jaw-dropping take on "the 20th-century's greatest royal love story". The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel.Or could it be that Madonna is in deadly earnest here? If so, her film is more risible than we had any right to expect; a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock. Andrea Riseborough stars as Wallis, the perky American social climber who meets Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) in London, where she is drawn like a magnet to his pursed lips and peevish air.
Yet Madonna has also taken the decision to run Wallis's story in tandem with the story of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a trophy wife in 1990s New York, who totters in and out of the drama like a doped pony. Wally, it transpires, was named after Wallis and is obsessed by the woman to a degree that struck me as deeply worrying, but which Madonna presents as evidence of impeccable good taste.
From time to time, the ghost of Wallis even pays Wally a call to dispense beauty tips or comfort her when she's lying injured on the bathroom floor. "I'm here," coos Wallis. "I'll always be here." And seldom has a promise sounded more like a threat.
Madonna wants us to see these two as spiritual twins, in that they are both dazzled by expensive trinkets and searching desperately for love. We know instantly that Wallis's first husband is a wrong 'un because he drags her from the bath and beats her, and we are invited to take a similar view of Wally's spouse when he starts claiming that Wallis and Edward were Nazi-sympathisers, which is patently absurd. "They might have been naive," Wally scolds him. "That doesn't mean that they were Nazis."
What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is. It may even surpass 2008's Filth and Wisdom, Madonna's calamitous first outing as a film-maker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all.
W.E. gives us slo-mo and jump cuts and a crawling crane shot up a tree in Balmoral, but they are all just tricks without a purpose. For her big directoral flourish, Madonna has Wallis bound on stage to dance with a Masai tribesman while Pretty Vacant blares on the soundtrack. But why? What point is she making? That social-climbing Wallis-Simpson was the world's first punk-rocker? That – see! – a genuine Nazi-sympathiser would never dream of dancing with an African? Who can say? My guess is that she could have had Wallis dressed as a clown, bungee jumping off the Eiffel Tower to the strains of The Birdy Song and it would have served her story just as well. Xan Brooks