Wallis & Edward (2005)


   Rating: 4 out of 5
Rated: NR
 
Reviewer: Rissi C.
 
Said to be extensively researched and the first production to tell the story from Wallis’ perspective, I’ve eyed this for a few years on Amazon, watching for price fluctuations and such. Only recently was my curiosity overcome, especially when I realized its connection to the recent Colin Firth helmed The King’s Speech who was the brother of Edward and the man who succeeded him to the throne. After that, it seemed an appropriate time to finally see this.
 
Not their idea of a proper successor to the throne, the Royal family’s heir is seen as nothing but a playboy. Currently on a tour of America, Prince Edward (Stephen Campbell Moore) isn’t exactly a shinning example of impeccable manners to his family. He is being hosted for dinner by a small circle of middle-class Americans whom he met on one occasion. Among them are the Simpsons, Ernest (David Westhead) and his wife, Wallis (Joely Richardson). Before long, the little group is seen together frequently and the Simpsons are invited to join Edward in England. It is Wallis, however that has captured his attention, and she is encouraged by Ernest and their friend, Mary (Lisa Kay) to keep him amused. On her part, Wallis merely keeps company with the Prince and is a part of his traveling entourage, but more soon follows the innocent witty banter. With the death of his father, Edward becomes king and the Prime Minister begins making demands on parliament that the King’s relationship with the American divorcee go no further than that of a mistress.
 
Opposition comes in from all corners of the British realm. Determined to beat his mother, personal assistant, Perry (Simon Hepworth) and the entire British government at its own game, Edward plans on making Wallis his wife pending the completion of a divorce. Even with the timid support of Winston Churchill (David Calder) and his brother, Bertie (Bill Champion), Edward faces a great emotional battle, one that will come with sacrifice.
 
Contrary to initial inklings, I have found period dramas set in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s just as engaging as any pre-dating such an era. Such dramas as Foyle’s War, Downton Abbey and this have now become equally as favored as Jane Austen era pictures. Some matters surprised me, while others were expected. In the latter’s case, I was sure before the story was done that some content inappropriate for younger viewers or those who refuse to overlook some things that are morally wrong would become an issue, and indeed it does. For the half, there isn’t anything beyond kissing and implications of adultery, but that changes when the lovers are seen together in their room. As love scenes go, this one isn’t “terrible” but is nevertheless sensual. Wallis lies down and begins caressing Edward’s bare chest as well as kissing him; all the while they remain clothed and do so ‘til the camera cuts away. Implications suggest a lot of things about Wallis, including having worked in brothels. She was previously divorced, a source of great distress to much of British society. As previously stated, the inference of adulterous affairs are there – not one but two are uncovered. As was the custom in those days, smoking and social drinking is prevalent to many scenes. Profanity is not too much trouble but there are a few. In the heat of the moment one couple slap one another across the face. One man threatens suicide.
 
This story is an interesting one since it has a variety of different ways in which it can turn. Many believe Wallis was the temptress, deciding to ruin her own marriage and in effect bring down a king. Divided opinion is definitely the factor of these historical events. The basic idea of monarchs and their wives is generally not romanticized or that has been initial impressions. Most stories are “realistic” in that they chose to depict many couples as having arranged marriages or relationships that are not loving but necessary. When I come across such historical stories that take a different direction and depict the couple in love instead of being forced together by necessity, I enjoy its on-screen take. This particular story has had many variations and more than one studio has undertaken it (a feature film is even in the works helmed by Madonna!). Being the only movie, miniseries, or book I’ve yet to encounter, I really loved this interpretation, even having nothing to compare it with. In fact, this adaptation took a different approach, making it seem like Wallis wanted to leave Edward in favor of his living up to his obligations; making Edward seem almost “desperate” for her love rather than that of a mature love. If there are any real failings, it can be hard to connect or sympathize with any of the characters. There comes a period of time that we do feel something for Wallis’ position but quickly wonder if she is worthy of any understanding as the rumors of her past continue to surface. Plus she actively participated in an affair, no matter her initial trepidation; she flirted and allowed it just as he pursued her.
 
Edward is the most difficult because of his demeanor; he almost is controlling at times. At its best moments, there was a tender connection between the lovers and it was a sweet romance with realistic hardship but beautiful results. The costuming is gorgeous as are the locales and musical score, which rarely makes an impression. Most the film takes place in England so much of the scenery is the wide landscapes at Windsor. I do have some issue with the cast. It may be interesting to note that there is quite an age gap between Richardson and Moore, whether that is historical or merely on the part of casting directors is never clear, and actually never is a story thread. Stephan gave a really emotional performance. Apart from a couple smaller roles, I’d never seen him in a leading role but he really did a magnificent job while being an asset to the production. It was Joely I took issue with. Normally she is a talented addition to any cast but I was constantly noticing her lack of decorum for this era, even in the smallest things; posture, dialogue and motivations – that was before constantly reminding myself that was all a part of her character. She was meant to be a direct contrast to British society, to create a stir. Wallis needed to stand out from Elizabeth, Bertie’s wife; she was supposed to be the type of person the Queen would never receive, plus starting in the 20’s, times did start towards freer manners. But the entire cast was wonderful. Even the supporting actors added a great deal, especially Bertie’s one “big” scene with Edward.
 
Although this is supposed to suggest that Edward was a playboy, it really did not nor did it set up the romance so that it initially engrosses us. During their first meeting, we do not get the idea that these two will become more than acquaintances. Pegged as the greatest love story ever told, or the one “love affair that changed history,” I cannot say that is exactly how I see this, but it is an interesting story. Whether you’re a history buff or looking for some new costume drama bliss, you can do a lot worse than Acorn Media’s Wallis & Edward.