Movie reviews

THE story of how Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) abdicated the English throne for the love of the American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) in 1936 might be a familiar one, but W.E. (16s) offers an unusual perspective, exploring the tale from Simpson’s point of view, and taking into account the fact that while Edward gave up his throne for Wallis, she sacrificed her entire life for him.

Co-written by Madonna and Alek Keshishian, and directed by Madonna, W.E. beautifully captures the dilemma Simpson finds herself in: besotted by the handsome prince, seduced by his aristocratic world, and yet married twice already, Simpson is given a sympathetic, poignant reading by Riseborough, albeit one that reeks of sex appeal and smouldering lust. D’Arcy is appropriately raffish and regal as the conflicted Edward, yet the pair bond wonderfully well, their scenes together exuding a potent chemistry that is all the more intoxicating for our foreknowledge of their future travails as love’s exiles. Unfortunately, W.E. is framed by a far less impressive story in which contemporary New York housewife Wally (Abbie Cornish) swoons over Simpson’s beautiful clothes and accessories, a device which allows Madonna to indulge in the frequent flashbacks to the altogether more glamorous and fascinating romance of Wallis and Edward. Wally’s function is to provide a drab contrast to the sparkling Wallis, and to suggest that even the most ordinary of women are entitled to look to Wallis Simpson for inspiration, but Cornish, who is entirely competent in what is essentially a pathfinding role, succeeds a little too well in convincing us that Simpson’s real-life fairytale is the only story worth telling.

EXTENDED flashbacks are also the order of the day in J. Edgar (12A), as an aging Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) dictates his memoirs to a young FBI agent, in the process offering a very personal insight into the life of the most famous American lawman of the 20th century. Director Clint Eastwood revels in the faux-Dirty Harry exploits of Hoover as the young man attempts to stamp his authority on the embryonic FBI. Along the way Hoover amassed files on virtually every person of importance in the US, including a number of presidents and their wives, although the central irony of the movie, is the extraordinary length to which Hoover went to protect his own secrets, and especially his sexuality. A powerful central performance by DiCaprio creates an intriguingly flawed Hoover, and he gets strong support from Armie Hammer as Hoover’s life-long partner Clyde Tolson, and Naomi Watts as his long-suffering secretary, Helen Gandy.

RALPH Fiennes directs an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (15A) and stars as its eponymous anti-hero, the arrogant Roman general who refuses to bow the knee to the citizens of Rome, instead turning his back on their democracy and pledging to destroy the city and all in it. The contemporary resonances are obvious from the beginning, but Fiennes also updates the iconography, introducing tanks and other examples of modern weaponry to hammer home the point that the moral at the dark heart of Coriolanus is a timeless and indeed timely one. The result is a bleak, gritty tale in which Shakespeare’s language doesn’t fully gel with the contemporary mise-en-scene. That said, it’s still a fascinating experiment, and Fiennes gets strong performances from Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain.

HAYWIRE (15A) is essentially a Jason Bourne movie rewritten to feature a female protagonist, as black ops agent Mallory Kane (played by real-life martial arts expert Gina Carano) discovers she has been double-crossed by her boss, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Steven Soderbergh’s latest offering sags a little when Carano is called upon to act during the quieter moments, but it’s a superbly edited action thriller when she cuts loose on her victims, among them Michael Fassbender, who plays a weasly British spy who gets his comeuppance in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel when he sneakily tries to bump her off. And proper order, too.

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