“You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall not commit adultery.’”
Madonna’s first stint at film direction takes us back and forth in time between the 1990s when an unhappily married young woman becomes entranced with the possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the 1930s when the man born to be King of England was falling in love with an American divorcé still married to her second husband. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either an elaborate justification for adultery, or the chronicle of a woman daring to break free of the conventions of society that enslave her. No need to tell you which is Madonna’s view.
Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) obviously sees her many visits to Sotheby’s auction gallery as an escape from her brutish husband. The effects of the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are on display prior to the upcoming auction. As she looks at the exquisite jewelry, dishes, and furnishings there are flashbacks to the Duke (James D’Arcy) and his affair with the American Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) who is visiting England with her husband. Attracted to each other, they defy the gossip of society, which increases as his ill father King George V approaches death. When he proposes to her, declaring that he will give up the throne, she observes that she will be “the most hated woman in England,” by no means an exaggeration—she is an American commoner, and worst of all, still married. Meanwhile in the film’s present time (the 1990s), Wally’s life progresses, an observant auction security guard named Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), noticing her comings and goings, takes great interest in her.
Romantics will love this justification for adultery, whereas others might well question the decision of both women. The film is a bit like Julie and Julia with its juxtaposition of a modern day character against one in the past. This leads to the question of why this is necessary? Might it not be better to concentrate on the more interesting of the two? Or does this help us perceive the present more clearly, especially the status of women? Most critics panned the film, but I still found it interesting in that it tells us as much about Madonna as the two women in front of the camera.
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