Something In The Air
A semi-autobiographical drama from director Olivier Assayas set in 1970s Paris
Divorcee Wallis Simpson gets together with King Edward VIII. He abdicates. The press cover this. Meanwhile, back in contemporary New York, a woman coincidentally called Wally mopes about a bit
The first thing to say is that W.E. is not all bad. The performers are nicely turned out and the costuming impeccable.
With its luxe look and fashion plate sensibilities, W.E. appears to owe a debt to - of all things - A Single Man. But where A Single Man radiated aesthetic control to a fault (and was based on a novel, not real people), here the obsessive attention to detail in some areas gives way to an alarmingly slapdash approach to basic film grammar and troubling historical facts in others. Composition, editing, factual accuracy... as flies to wanton boys are they to Madonna; she kills them for her sport.
Oh well. She's Madonna. Do we expect the technical perfection of a Kubrick movie? Probably not. More disappointing is the lack of something that she is eminently qualified to bring to the table: an argument. More alarming is the cavalier re-imagining of who Wallis Simpson was.
The film sort of seems to be saying 'look what feisty Wallis Simpson gave up to marry Edward, wasn't she brave, romantic and unfortunate?' We might happen to disagree with this assessment of a woman who, by today's standards, was actually treated rather daintily by the British press (for years UK media tactfully made no mention of the affair, despite the fact it was widely reported internationally). We might think that someone who shagged a king in the 1930s probably knew what she was getting into. I'm still game for at least hearing Madonna make the case for Wallis Simpson, but she doesn't seem to acknowledge the need to do this.
As an advocate for those in the international spotlight, Madonna could hardly be better placed to speak passionately from experience, perhaps demonstrate why people under pressure behave in peculiar ways. But no, there's no gutsy, counter-intuitive polemic here. Wallis must simply run a few flashbulb gauntlets and trot out the odd bizarre dismissal of those pesky Nazi sympathiser allegations as "rumours", as if she's been quoted out of context in Heat or something (as opposed to being reasonably well-documented as thinking Hitler was a pretty stand-up guy).
There's an interesting thesis somewhere in the idea that famous people might become susceptible to the rhetoric of fascist dictators because of their own rarefied, disconnected lives, lived in a bubble above the masses. Or that Wallis perhaps felt bitter towards the country which rejected her - in 1940, she told an American journalist, "I can't say I feel sorry for them," as the bombs fell on London. She was by any reckoning a spiky, controversial figure, but instead of engaging with these types of ideas, the film airbrushes them right out, being far more concerned with getting the period detail in the endless shots of jewellery right. We're certainly not about to be shown the Wallis Simpson who wrote that Caribbean people were "lazy, thriving n****rs", or who travelled extensively in Asia, tellingly learning only one phrase in Mandarin: "Boy, pass me the champagne."
It is a pity if films like this see Wallis Simpson emulated as a romantic fashion icon for women, when she was really a bit more problematic than that.
An ethically questionable historical figure is re-imagined as the gutsy heroine of a romantic tragedy. Enough already with the famous-equals-feminist school of female icons - it's not enough to simply dress well.
Film4.com editor Catherine Bray takes in Steven Soderbergh's Behind The Candelabra, Jim Mickle's remake of We Are What We Are, Lucía Puenzo's Nazis-in-hiding adaptation and Mahamat Saleh Haroun's comp
Coming to cinemas, TV, DVD/Blu-ray, video-on-demand and Film4 Channel on July 5th is Ben Wheatley's latest, the Film4-backed A Field In England. And we're excited to unveil not only the new quad poste