W.E. (stylized as W./E.) is a romantic drama film co-written and directed by Madonna, starring Abbie Cornish, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle, James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough.
Filming began on location in London on July 5, 2010, and continued in France and the United States. The screenplay was co-written by Alek Keshishian, who previously worked with Madonna on her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare (aka In Bed with Madonna) and two of her music video clips. The film was produced by Madonna's production company Semtex Films and is distributed in the United States by The Weinstein Company and in the UK by StudioCanal UK. It received negative reviews from film critics. See Critical Reception in the next "post"...
W.E. tells the story of two fragile but determined women – Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) and Wallis Simpson – separated for more than six decades. In 1998, lonely New Yorker Winthrop is obsessed with what she perceives as the ultimate love story: King Edward VIII's abdication of the British throne for the woman he loved, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. But Winthrop's research, including several visits to the Sotheby's auction of the Windsor Estate, reveals that the couple's life together was not as perfect as she thought. Weaving back and forth in time, the film intertwines Wally's journey of discovery in New York with the story of Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) and Edward (James D'Arcy), from the glamorous early days of their romance to the slow unraveling of their lives in the decades that followed.
In October 2009, Daily Mail reported that Madonna will be directing W.E, whose script was written by her with director Alek Keshishian. Her then husband Guy Ritchie helped Madonna with the script and the screenplay, suggesting her to seek meetings with several actors such as Mark Strong and Toby Kebbell, who both had major roles in Ritchie's last film, RocknRolla. Madonna had in mind that W.E could establish her artistic credibility and give her success in the filmmaking field after appearing in several critical and commercial failures in the past. Madonna started writing W.E after she had finished filming her directorial venture, Filth and Wisdom (2008). W.E was actually an idea she had before Filth and Wisdom, but instead she filmed the latter, as she felt that she did not have enough experience to shoot a big-budgeted film like W.E. She described the whole film as a much bigger story:
There are more characters, and three of them basically changed the course of English history. King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to be with an American woman, Wallis Simpson, and that's part of my story, so I've had to do an enormous amount of research and interview people. So I have an enormous responsibility to that, and then I have a responsibility to the actual auction, which really happened. Then there's the new story, the point of view, which is this girl who has this obsession and is going to the auctions and stuff. So it's a much more layered, complicated piece than Filth and Wisdom.
After the writing began, Madonna realized that she needed help as the subject was vast. She enlisted the help of Keshishian, who was well acquainted with Madonna after directing her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare (aka In Bed with Madonna) and two of her music video clips. The writing process was dynamic, with Madonna and Keshishian e-mailing their developed scripts to each other, or through telephone conversations and also by writing on each other's laptop.Madonna also spoke to friends and associates of Simpson, such as socialite and designer Nicholas Haslam, to gather more information on the subject. W.E. was initially reported to be a musical about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Edward and Simpson. However, Madonna confirmed that although they are in the film, the main story was not about them. It was about a woman called Wally Winthrop, a young married New Yorker in 1998 who is obsessed with what she perceived as the ultimate romantic love story—Edward's abdication of the royal throne for his love of Simpson. The character of Simpson acted as a spiritual guide for Winthrop, in the film. The timeline presented in the film ranges from pre-World War II England (1936–37) to New York in 1998, and the storyline swaps between these two eras. Madonna decided to use the Sotheby's auction of Edward and Simpson's estate in 1998, to flash backward from.
Madonna's inspiration to direct the film came from the controversial lives of Edward and Simpson. She recalled from her experience that if she brought up King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson at a dinner party or a social gathering, "it's like throwing a Molotov cocktail into the room. Everyone erupts into an argument about who they were. I mean, they were very controversial – and continue to be. So, of course, I'm very attracted to that." She investigated the history behind the abdication and tried to understand what led Edward to leave his royal throne. The singer spent two years researching the life of Simpson and writing the script. She wallpapered an empty room in her house with pictures from auction catalogues and photographs of the Duke and Duchess throughout their lives. "I was sitting in a room that was completely and utterly inundated with their images so I could soak up their energy. I was trying to understand the nature of their love story and trying to figure out for myself if there is such a thing as perfect love," she said. However, not interested in making a biopic about Simpson, Madonna created the modern-day story about the character Wally Winthrop, so that she could have a point of view in which to tell the narrative. She explained later: "We can all read the same history book and have a different point of view. So it was important for me to not present the story and say, 'This is the one and only story,' but to say, 'This story moved me and inspired me.' That's how the two love stories were created." One of the first characters that Madonna developed for the film was a Russian immigrant living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan, called Evgeni. The character was inspired by Eugene Hütz, who played the lead role in Filth and Wisdom. Another motivation behind the project was the celebrity aspect of Edward and Simpson, who became the subject of intense media scrutiny and public vilification and were ostracized by the Royal Family. Madonna, being interested in the cult of celebrity, found that many of the rumors surrounding Simpson's life are untrue and she could not find any empirical evidence supporting them. Hence she wanted to portray Simpson as a human being with flaws, imperfections and a vulnerable side. "The message of the film is to realize that in the end happiness lies in your own head and that we are in fact in charge of our destiny," she said.