Said to be extensively researched and the first production to tell the story from Wallis’ perspective, I’d eyed this for a few years on Amazon, watching for price fluctuations and such. Finally was my curiosity overcome, especially when I realized its connection to Colin Firth's 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 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, who captures his fancy, and she is encouraged to keep him amused. For her part, Wallis merely keeps company with the Prince and is a part of his traveling entourage, but more soon follows the innocent 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 befalls them from 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 later eras just as engaging as any Austen films. Such dramas as Downton Abbey have made a splash, earning themselves a well-deserved place among the best British dramas. Wallis and Edward is one of those. Some of its themes surprised me, others did not but this series is unique enough to considering seeing. This story is an interesting one since it has a variety of different ways it could be approached. Many believe Wallis was the temptress, deciding to ruin her own marriage and in effect ruin a king. Divided opinion is definitely the factor of these historical events. Usually when watching a film about monarchs, it is generally not romanticized. 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 historical stories that depicts the couple in love, the on-screen romanticism is a breath of fresh air. This particular story has had many variations and more than one studio has undertaken it (a feature film was just released). Being the first one I saw immortalized on film, I really loved this interpretation – which is why it may always be my favorite. In fact, this adaptation wants to make a statement and prove Wallis wanted to leave Edward in favor of seeing him fulfill his duty in turn painting Edward as “desperate” for her 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 surface. Plus she actively participated in an affair, just as he pursued her. Edward is the most difficult because of his demeanor; his controlling personality is irritating.
At its best, there was a tender connection between the lovers and it was a sweet romance with realistic hardship meting beautiful results. Costuming is, as always gorgeous as are the locales. Most the film takes place in England so much of the scenery is 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 that 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 her peers; she was supposed to be the type of person the Queen would never receive. Though we’re supposed to believe that Edward is a playboy, that is never well written nor does the romance initially engross 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 and Edward.
(Content: There is talk of extra-marital affairs and one love-making scene; there is caressing but they remain clothed and do so ‘til the camera cuts away, but scenes show them rolling around in the sheets. Implications suggest Wallis worked in brothels. She was previously divorced. 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.)