Madonna brings a certain empowered, if wrenching determinism to her second film (using 35 and 8 mm stock) which partly takes place among the milieu (Edward VIII's abdication) more persuasively examined in The King's Speech shifting from the Big Apple to the Royal Palaces of Britain.
Nevertheless, her flash-backing recreation W.E. starring Abbie Cornish and Andrea Riseborough has alluring production values about it from the designs and cinematography even if the somewhat timely felt drama churns from archival clips, period trappings, amid some flights of fancy.
The conceit set up by Guy Ritchie's ex with Alek Keshishian involves Cornish's Wally (named after the notorious Wallis Simpson) in the late 1990s looking at some interesting artifacts from Edward at a New York auction gallery. Wally's love life has hit a plateau with hubby William (Richard Coyle) though she has a handsome confidante in a security officer (Oscar Isaac). Her existence is interwoven (compare to the mainstream Julie & Julia) with Wallis (Riseborough) and Edward (a dandified James D'Arcy) back in the two decades preceding World War II. And, Wallis's marriages to Ernest (a supportive David Harbour) and the more unstable Win (Ryan Hayward) are included.
Wally, appealingly internalized by Cornish, appears to be an extension of the auteur's investigative approach to the story as Wally goes to Paris to read the journals of a woman whom has much influence on her. Too bad the disjointed plot mechanics and uneasy ornate filmmaking can't match the nuances and colorful characters with fine scene-chewing contrast by Riseborough to the contemporary Wally often coming off as a pretentious gallimaufry and a bit bipolar. Considering the pushy handling of romance, politics, comedy and violence where the males for the most part are rather cold and distant.
W.E. argues the similarities from its two timeframes to excessive melodramatic effect with strong distaff leanings and may have appeal to this side, particularly those who frequent art-houses, but the arrangement and editing may position it more off-putting, than intimately disarming. Yet, music mogul's fastidiousness may have gotten the better of her this time as she begins to explore her artistry.
While it may be difficult with some to put up with the indulgences, Cornish and Riseborough share an interesting surreal moment. In contrast to the aforementioned Oscar-winner from Tom Hooper there's an unmerciful imperious Natalie Dormer as Elizabeth who impresses her stuttering spouse Bertie (Laurence Fox) into sibling renouncement in what may be too exhaustive through its truthful ambition and its fractured maneuverings.