About The Production
'You have no idea how hard it is to live out the world's greatest romance.' -
Writer and director Madonna had been developing the idea for W.E. for many
years. She had a longstanding fascination with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,
yet she was not interested in making a conventional biopic. She sought instead
to capture the essence of their romance and convey her interpretation of one of
the greatest love stories of the 20th Century. She says, "Truth is subjective.
Everything I have to say about the Duke and Duchess is the conclusion I came to
after all my research. I wanted to present a more well-rounded portrayal of
Wallis than was commonly known. I created the Wally character because the movie
needed a point of view. Wally goes on a journey thinking this is the greatest
love story only to realize that it wasn't such a perfect love and that both of
them made huge sacrifices. Strangely enough, Wallis seemed to make more of a
sacrifice than Edward did."
Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in Pennsylvania in 1896. Her father died shortly
after her birth, and she and her mother were left dependent on the charity of
relatives. Her uncle, a wealthy bachelor, paid for her to attend the most
expensive girls' school in Maryland, where she became friends with daughters of
some of the wealthiest families in America. A bright and successful pupil, even
then she seems to have been very conscious of appearances, always immaculately
dressed and well turned out.
Madonna comments, "It's important to understand the world that Wallis came from.
When she was young, the only option for a woman was to marry, and you were only
as good as the man that you married. If you married well, you would have a good
life, and if you didn't, you'd have to make do. She grew up without a father.
Her mother cooked for people. They moved around a lot and she lived in the homes
of many privileged families. As a servant's daughter she could see the
difference between the haves and the have-nots. She did have an uncle who had
money and made sure she got an education. But she grew up feeling like she was
on the wrong side of the tracks, and she wanted a better life."
In 1916, Wallis met and married her first husband, Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.
("Win"), a US Navy pilot, but the marriage was not a happy one. Spencer was an
alcoholic, and by 1920, the couple had already briefly separated for the first
time. They were reunited in 1921, but split again in 1922, when Win was posted
to the Far East. Wallis travelled to China in 1924 and joined Win there, but
fell ill and returned to Hong Kong. By 1925, she and Win had both returned to
the States, but had separated, this time permanently. They divorced in 1927.
Before her divorce was finalized, Wallis had embarked on an affair with Ernest
Simpson, a shipping executive and former officer in the Coldstream Guards. He
divorced his first wife to marry Wallis in the summer of 1928. They moved to
London, and with Simpson's shipping business going well, the couple moved into a
large flat and enjoyed a busy social life.
Edward, Prince of Wales, first met Wallis in January, 1931, at a hunting
weekend. Edward was known as a young man game for anything, with a reputation
for charming women. Despite being involved with another married woman, Lady
Thelma Furness, at the time, he was completely enraptured by Wallis. He was
entranced by her spark or her "pep," as she liked to refer to it, qualities
which would have been rare for a woman to display in the 1930s, certainly in
royal circles. Edward had never met anyone quite like her and called her "the
most independent woman he had ever met."They continued to meet at various
social events and by 1934, Wallis was his mistress.
Madonna comments, "Wallis was in awe of Edward to a certain extent. She was
swept up in the glamour that surrounded him. I don't think she ever thought it
would be more than a momentary fling. Edward found it refreshing that she was so
straightforward and informal with him. I tried to capture her sense of humor and
her sense of irreverence towards him that took him by surprise. She was smart,
funny, and she could make a mean martini."
Whether or not Wallis thought the relationship would last, it became clear that
for Edward, who had had a string of affairs with married women, that this one
was far more serious than any previous relationships. The couple holidayed
together and, although divorcees were at that point still frowned upon at court,
he introduced her to his mother, Queen Mary. His father, King George V, was
outraged, and the Prince's courtiers became concerned that the relationship was
interfering with his royal duties.
Madonna feels that Wallis actually wanted to be more involved in Edward's
day-to-day life. "She was truly interested in what he had to do, and I think he
was quite frustrated when he realized that actually he wasn't going to be
allowed to do that much. The fact that she was the first woman to take an
interest in his world was one of the key factors in his attraction to Wallis. On
the outside, she is looking for glamour and power and he is looking for an
affair with a married woman. Then it developed into something much deeper than
that. She offered him many things that he was missing in his life."
In January 1936, Edward's father, King George V, died, and Edward was proclaimed
King Edward VIII. His relationship with Wallis was now a huge problem. At that
time (and indeed until 2002), the Church of England did not permit the
remarriage of divorced people with living ex-spouses, and both Win Spencer and
Ernest Simpson were very much alive. Indeed Wallis was still officially married
to Simpson at the time of Edward's accession, although she had filed for a
divorce, which was granted in October 1936. It was impossible that the King of
England, as titular head of the Church of England, could marry a divorcee.
With a constitutional crisis fast approaching, Edward was visited a number of
times by the Prime Minster, Stanley Baldwin, who asked him to reconsider his
relationship. During the King's brief reign, his father's words often came back
to haunt him: "You must always remember your position."Edward suggested a
number of compromises and tried hard to persuade his family to accept Wallis, to
no avail. Apart from the issue of the Church, both the government and royal
family felt Wallis would never be a suitable Queen because of her background.
Had Edward defied Baldwin, the Prime Minister had made it clear he would resign,
plunging Britain into a constitutional crisis.
By early December 1936, the British press, which until then had remained
deferential to the monarchy generally and had not reported the relationship, had
broken the news and Wallis fled to France to try and escape the scandal.
Although the public perception was that she was an ambitious social climber and
the one pursuing Edward for his wealth and rank, at this stage she was the one
prepared to give up the relationship in order to allow Edward to become King.
However he remained adamant that "he would marry Mrs. Simpson on the throne or
off." Despite huge pressure from
the Prime Minister, the Royal family and advisers, Edward would not be moved.
His position became untenable and seven months later, in December 1936, Edward
delivered his famous abdication speech in the presence of his three brothers,
ultimately choosing true love over the throne.
Madonna comments, "I couldn't get my mind off the fact
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