British talents James D’Arcy (“Master and Commander”) and Andrea Riseborough (“Never Let Me Go”) play the ill-fated Duke and Duchess of Windsor in The Weinstein Company’s elegant romantic drama “W.E.,” Madonna’s Oscar-nominated film about one of the greatest real love stories of all time. The will be shown exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas (Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3 and Trinoma) starting Sept. 12.
“W.E.” starts in the year 1998, when Manhattan is abuzz with anticipation about the upcoming auction of the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But the auction is far more than a diversion for Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a New Yorker trapped in an unhappy and abusive marriage. Transfixed by the exquisite artifacts of the Windsors’ lives, Wally becomes obsessed with the love story of Wallis Simpson (Riseborough), the chic, charismatic American who captured the heart of King Edward VIII (D’Arcy). As she learns more about the sacrifices Wallis made in choosing to be with Edward, Wally finds the courage to follow her own heart and create her own happiness.
Finding the right actress to play Wallis Simpson was essential to the telling of the story. Director Madonna needed someone who was able to embody Wallis’s feisty “pep,” but with a hint of fragility. The acclaimed British actress Andrea Riseborough was eventually cast in the role of Wallis Simpson. She was fresh from her critically acclaimed performance as the young Margaret Thatcher in the BBC film “The Long Walk to Finchley,” which earned her a Television BAFTA nomination.
Recalls Madonna, “Casting Wallis Simpson was almost impossible. She was very particular, and I was looking for a certain quality – something fragile, something androgynous and yet still feminine in a really old-fashioned way – plus this nervous, birdlike energy. When Andrea walked into the room, I knew immediately she was the one. It was the way she wore her dress, the length of her neck, the expressiveness of her hands. I had seen her play Margaret Thatcher and I had seen her in a period piece as well, “The Devil’s Whore” and I saw that she transformed herself in each character.”
For her part, Riseborough was drawn to “W.E.” after hearing two friends talk about it in New York. “They were meeting with Madonna to talk about being involved, so this was my first inkling that it was happening,” she says. “When I first read the script, I found the dual reality interesting. Seeing a historical figure through the eyes of a modern-day woman and then on the flip side being able to relate to a woman in the late 1930s who was about to potentially become a Queen, I thought this was very interesting.”
Madonna’s evident passion for the project was also a lure, Riseborough explains. “I really wanted to play Wallis with Madonna directing because she has such an affinity with Wallis. Madonna has read every publication about her, and I think she understands her in a very specific way in relation to her own life, but that is not something I have talked about with her. I just knew from the first moment that we met and talked about Wallis that she needed to tell the story.”
After joining the cast, Riseborough’s preparation period began with researching her role and the period. Riseborough found the private letters between Wallis and Edward particularly illuminating. “The letters were just fascinating. They go all the way up to and past the abdication, so you can really get a full picture,” the actress remarks. “Wallis and Edward had a really interesting language they used with one another, like a private code.”
British actor James D’Arcy was cast in the role of the Duke of Windsor, and as with the other actors, found Madonna’s knowledge of Wallis and Edward to be highly impressive. “She had clearly done mountains of research, had written the script, and what became immediately obvious was that she’d been working on this for a long time,” D’Arcy remembers. “She had read more or less everything there was to read about Edward and Mrs. Simpson.”
The interwoven story between the modern-day and the 1930s also appealed to the actor “What I liked about the script was that the period flashbacks were very real, very honest and very immediate. Sometimes when I watch period dramas, I feel quite a distance from them, that these are not real people. I hope that what you get with this film is you really believe that these are real people.”