The Weinstein Co. has added Madonna’s latest, W.E. (as in Wallis and Edward), an examination of their romance starring Abbie Cornish (Bright Star, Sucker Punch), Andrea Riseborough (Never Let Me Go), James D’Arcy (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) and Oscar Isaac (Drive), to its holiday line-up with a December 9 release date. That’s prime Oscar real estate, and it costs money to support a movie in platform release in New York and L.A. during that crowded time frame. So the company believes in this one; we’ll see it on the fall fest circuit, probably starting with Venice in August. Obviously Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII were key figures in TWC Oscar-winner The King’s Speech; the Weinsteins have good instincts for what will play with the Academy–and perhaps crucially in this case, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has given Madonna five Golden Globe song nominations and a best actress in a musical win for Evita.
The Weinsteins have never shied away from multi-tasking during awards season (or meddling in the editing room)–they often wait to see which of their films pulls ahead of the pack and let the weak ones fall behind. But Madonna’s movie will have to be pretty good to compete with the likes of much-anticipated Meryl Streep biopic The Iron Lady, Ralph Fiennes’ Berlin hit Coriolanus, which has strong buzz for Vanessa Redgrave, My Week with Marilyn, starring Oscar perennial Michelle Williams, and Cannes hit The Artist, starring Palme d’Or winner Jean Dujardin.
TWC plans to expand the film to more markets in December and go wide by mid-January. That will depend on how the movie plays and is reviewed. While TWC asserts that the film is Madonna’s narrative feature directorial debut, she has directed before (2008’s badly reviewed Filth and Wisdom) and has taken a strong hand in other films she’s participated in, from the disastrous Shanghai Surprise opposite then partner Sean Penn and ex-husband Guy Ritchie’s 2002 Swept Away remake to Alek Keshishian’s Truth or Dare, which the Weinsteins’ Miramax debuted at Cannes in 1991.
A world-renowned performer/chameleon/celebrity, Madonna, 52, is a smart cookie. But she has never been a great actress (she did best in films with strong directors, Desperately Seeking Susan, Evita and boyfriend Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy). One can see how she would relate to this interwoven two-period story about a young New Yorker in 1998 (Cornish) obsessed with finding out the true story of divorcee Simpson (Riseborough) who inspired King Edward (James D’Arcy) to renounce his throne. It was the media story of its time, controversial and often misreported. We find out what happened, behind closed doors, in the decades after he gave up his crown.