Madonna attends the screening of W.E. at the BFI London Film Festival.
SOURCE: UK GUARDIAN
Here's a quote that Madonna is welcome , nay, advised, to put on the posters of her upcoming film W.E., a hagiography of the deeply unpleasant Wallis Simpson: "Hey! This movie isn't quite as mindblowingly terrible as you expect it to be!" Obviously, the film is inescapably ridiculous, predicated as it is on the idea that not only is some godawful social climber with notorious fascist leanings in any way relevant to women today, but that a modern 28-year-old woman who spends thousands of dollars of her husband's money in order to dress like Simpson is a sensitive feminist heroine as opposed to possibly certifiable.
Production year: 2011
Runtime: 114 mins
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy, James Fox, Laurence Fox, Oscar Isaac
More on this film
It is a clumsily assembled jigsaw of bad movie cliches, like the Trailer for Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever on YouTube, but funnier, if inadvertently so. Strands of pearls are snapped in slow motion, glasses of champagne are thrown in the fireplace, the dialogue is possibly cribbed from a made-for-TV cop movie with lines such as "That's right, go make yourself another drink" and "What is this – an interrogation?"
One of the characters falls in love with a security guard "who used to be a Russian intellectual" because God forbid he should be just a security guard, suggesting the film is not just about a snob, but made by one. As for the scene in which Simpson writhes away to the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant, presumably this is Madonna displaying heretofore hidden satirical tendencies and making sparkling fun of Baz Luhrmann.
All that aside, it's not as bad as I expected. Having not seen the cut shown in Venice, I don't know whether the one I saw in London on Sunday has been drastically overhauled. In any event, this version is trite, misguided, beautiful and vaguely coherent. There's another quote for the posters.
It also subscribes to a certain film theory that has always interested me: the Inconvenient Nazi theory. Along with the British royalty and mental or physical disability, Nazis are an Oscars lubricant, easing one's path down the red carpet and straight up to the podium. Sorry, first world war: you may have been the great war, but you didn't have distinctive uniforms. Do you have any other special talents? Singing? Can you balance a broom on your chin? No? You really need to work on getting a USP if you want to get cast more.
But some contrary film-makers, for various reasons, do their damnedest to avoid the whole "Nazi unpleasantness", even if their chosen plots make it seemingly unavoidable. For these film-makers, the Nazis are, well, a bit inconvenient. As they were for many.
Coco Before Chanel presented the designer as a charming little peasant, as opposed to the recent biography Sleeping With the Enemy, where she is depicted as a vehement antisemite who had a relationship with a Nazi during the occupation and possibly collaborated. In the kitschy Life is Beautiful, the Nazis were something one could triumph over with laughter.
W.E. is possibly the greatest example yet of this genre. I couldn't see the thank you to Leni Riefenstahl, film-maker and mate of Adolf, that was reportedly in the end credits in the version shown in Venice, and that is not the only respect in which Madonna tries to downplay Nazi references in the film. Most agree that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had, shall we say, some dodgy politics. They socialised happily with Hitler and he reportedly supported appeasement and possibly even an alliance with Germany.
Madonna does not think that. The only people who voice such thoughts are the film's real baddies, including, impressively, the future Queen Mother, who is depicted here as a power-hungry destroyer of families. There is something so adorably naive about Inconvenient Nazi films that I almost admire them. "Truth is subjective," Madonna insisted after the film. Unfortunately, photos showing the Duke and Duchess smiling humbly at Hitler when they met him on a trip to his Bavarian retreat near Berchtesgaden are less so. Sandra Hebron, artistic director of the BFI London Film Festival, where the film had its UK premiere, praised Madonna's "understanding and empathy" with Simpson. But if Madonna really needed to find some sort of parallel for her life as an American who found herself in cold, unfriendly Europe, could she not have chosen, say, a Henry James heroine or, indeed, anyone who had never been matey with Hitler? Not only would she not have to break her back bending over to defend her doppelgänger's political leanings, but I for one would love to see her take on The Golden Bowl, a book I always thought just needed a bit of livening up from the Sex Pistols.
A caffeine-fuelled protest
Is Starbucks incompatible with protest? Yes, is the verdict from Melanie Phillips and Louise Mensch. Mensch, who increasingly is contravening the Trades Descriptions Act for she is no mensch, somehow bagged one of Have I Got News For You's notoriously few chairs available for women and promptly wasted it by making an idiot out of herself, sneering at protesters who buy Starbucks, have iPhones and sleep in something called "fancy tents". "You can't be against capitalism and then take everything it provides," she chortled, as though the protesters are shorting the sub-prime mortgage market instead of buying a cup of coffee.
Similarly, Phillips sees hypocrisy where others see caffeine, railing against "this mob rule by spoiled children" who "have been recharging their mobile phones at that temple of Mammon, Starbucks". Both seem to have confused "protest against the inequities of the financial system" with "anarchy in the name of bringing down society".
Now if the protesters were recharging the gold-plated phones they'd received as part of their bonuses at Goldman Sachs in the offices of, say, Lehman Brothers, Phillips and Mensch might have a point. As it is, they weren't and so they don't, and perhaps Mensch and Philips could cut down on the caffeine themselves.
• This article was amended on 26 October 2011. The original referred to the Duke and Duchess of Wales. This has been corrected.