Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
W.E. Movie Poster Image
Madonna directs mature, uneven drama; some domestic abuse.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 118 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

It's hard to find positive messages in a movie about marital issues, adultery, and obsessive love, but there is one very important take-away: Women shouldn't stay in relationships where they're physically abused.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The only positive role model is Evgeni, who's helpful and kind to Wally, even though they barely know each other. Despite their legendary romance, it's hard to call Wallis and Edward positive role models, since they have an adulterous affair without regard for Wallis' husband Ernest. Wally's husband William, who's also having an affair, lies to and beats her, while Wally seems too obsessed with the life of Wallis Simpson to change her own until the very end.


There's a disturbing amount of domestic abuse in the story. Wallis is severely beaten by her first husband; she's kicked so hard that she miscarries (blood is shown pooling around her naked body). Wally's husband also beats her after a fight escalates into physical abuse. Wallis slaps Wally.


The movie opens with a bath scene in which viewers see a character's breasts. A few love scenes show lots of skin, but no additional shots of sensitive body parts. Wallis and Wally often strip down to their bras and panties or chemises.


Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "f--king," "bulls--t," and (rarely) "c--t." Insults include "common," "trollop," "adulteress," etc.


Luxury brands such as Cartier, Jaguar, Chanel No. 5, Burberry, and Sotheby's, which is one of the movie's main settings.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In both the '30s and the '90s, the characters chain-smoke cigarettes. Wallis and Edward are rarely seen without a cocktail or champagne in hand, and much is made about her legendary drinks. In one scene, Wallis and Edward drop Benzedrine into champagne and then act high. Evgeni also smokes, and he and Wally have vodka. Several dinner parties have lots of drinking. Wally takes fertility drugs, which she injects herself with throughout most of the movie.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Madonna's directorial debut tackles some mature issues that aren't appropriate for younger teens. There's considerable marital abuse; the two main female characters both have husbands who strike them viciously, and in one case the physical abuse leads to a bloody miscarriage. There's nearly full-frontal nudity in a brief bath scene, plus several love scenes (though no additional graphic nudity) and shots of the two main actresses wearing only underwear/lingerie. Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "c--t." Despite W.E.'s adult themes, it does have one important message: Never stay in an abusive relationship.

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What's the story?

In 1998, well-heeled Manhattan housewife Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) is obsessed with the life and story of her namesake, Wallis Simpson. Wally spends her days at Sotheby's staring at all of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's items up for auction. In the story within the story, viewers meet the actual Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) as she gets to know and then engages in an affair with the Prince of Wales (James D'Arcy). Back in Manhattan, Wally begins to fall under the spell of Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a sweet Sotheby's security guard who's much kinder to her than her abusive husband, William (Richard Coyle).

Is it any good?

This is a superficial albeit "pretty" movie about a fascinating love story; it's too bad a better director didn't tackle it. Madonna (who makes her directorial debut with this film) has been very vocal about how personal this project was to her. She became fascinated with the story of Wallis Simpson while herself the divorced American wife of a well-known Englishman in the spotlight, director Guy Ritchie. It's obvious that she's sympathetic toward the American socialite whom the king loved so much that he was willing to abdicate the throne. But W.E.'s contrived framing device (it seems far-fetched that a young married woman would be so single-mindedly obsessed with the Wallis-Edward love affair) and the forced parallels between the two Wallises' lives don't hold up; instead, the movie becomes a two-hour excuse to star at beautiful locations and designs.

In the film, Mrs. Simpson and the king are certainly the more compelling of the two W.E. couples; Riseborough is so enchanting as the stylish but not particularly beautiful Wallis that it's obvious why Edward was so taken with her. Madonna glosses over the unsavory parts of the royal affair, shutting down the long-held rumors that the two were Nazi sympathizers and focusing on the whirlwind romance and how it affected not just the king but Simpson, who was forced to deal with being the most reviled woman in the British Empire, if not the world. As charming as Cornish and Isaac are, the contemporary romance can't compare, and young Wally seems pathetic compared to Wallis until the very end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how W.E. addresses the classic theme of star-crossed lovers. How are both couples not initially a good match? What keeps them together? Can you think of other movie couples that stay together despite the odds against them?

  • Why does the movie gloss over possible negative aspects of Wallis and Edward's relationship? How does this portrayal compare to how they're depicted in The King's Speech? Are there any similarities between the two movies? Which characters are depicted consistently between the two films?

  • How do the relationships in this movie compare to others you've seen in movies and TV shows? What messages do you see in how the media depicts romantic relationships?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance

Themes & Topics

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