W.E. tells the parallel stories of two women. One, Wally Winthrop, lives in 1989 Manhattan, and is married to a never-at-home hospital psychiatrist. She was named Wallace by her mother and grandmother, who were obsessed with Wallace Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne. Of course, Wally is also obsessed with Wallace Simpson, so obsessed she imagines her being in the same room.
The other woman is Wallace Simpson, the American divorcée whose relationship with King Edward VIII changed the course of history. Wallace and Wally's stories are beautifully told, going back and forth from 1989 Manahattan to 1930s England.
Meanwhile, modern-day Wally, trying to escape her troubled marriage, spends most of her time at Sotheby's where an auction of is due to take place of Wallace & Edward's personal items. There she meets a security guard who slowly falls for her. At this point, both stories become intertwined.
Madonna lovingly and beautifully combines these stories together. The costumes, sets, extras, and hairstyles in the 1930s' scenes are painstakingly perfect - as one would expect from Madonna. The modern day scenes are less so, and this is what prevents the movie from being very good. Additionally, Abbie Cornish, as Wally Winthrop, is not a strong enough actress to carry a part so very instrumental to the movie. She is so devoid of human emotion (because she is so unhappy?) that by the end of the film we don't care if she finds happiness or not. James D'Arcy as Edward is OK, if slightly awkward due to his height. Andrea Riseborough, as Wallace Simpson, gives the film its one great performance as a fairly young Wallace, and even more so as she gets older. The scene in which she dances for a dying Edward left me speechless. If W.E. was only about the story of Wallace and Edward, it would have been superb. Madonna captures that part of the movie with perfection.
Madonna deserves credit for writing and directing a project this big. Unlucky for her, W.E. comes out a year after The King's Speech, which also dealt with the Wallace and Edward story. W.E. is not a great film, but it is a good one.