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The current practice of putting credits at the end of a film rather than the beginning will work to the advantage of audiences who come across W. E. in the future: they’re more likely to view it with an open mind if they don’t realize until it’s over that it was directed by Madonna.

Not so current critics, who have scolded this fanciful biopic with gleefully sharpened poison pens. Certainly it’s not the greatest film of the past year. But by no means is it the worst, or nearly as bad as it has been called.

W. E. juxtaposes two stories. In 1998 Manhattan, Wally (Abbie Cornish), a young woman in a failing marriage to a wealthy doctor, attends the Sotheby auction of the effects of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She becomes obsessed with the fairy tale story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne.

It’s no surprise to learn that Madonna has long been interested in the Duchess, another American girl from what used to be called the “wrong side of the tracks” who yearned for a finer life. Ms. Ciccone has of course managed hers better, and in her script (co-written with longtime collaborator Alek Keshishian) she speculates that Wallis was the biggest victim of her ambition, giving up more than the husband who fought so hard for her hand.

You may or may not care about any of this: to say that W. E. treats Wallis with more sympathy than she has traditionally received is to jump over a very low bar indeed. (Then again, the Weinstein Company’s success with The King’s Speech, which tells an overlapping story, can’t have hurt their decision to fund this.)

But whatever its merits as history, W. E. is a very watchable movie. If much of it is edited like a music video, it’s a suitable way of not only getting a lot of information across in an efficient manner but of pulling you into it as well. The camera appreciates the settings and costumes, all of which are impressive for a relatively low-budget film.

Critics have lingered over Madonna’s missteps, like a benezedrine-spiked party of the 1930’s where the revelers dance to the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” (the comment may be obvious, but at least it’s not “God Save the Queen.”). But give her credit for the places she didn’t go. There’s none of the lurid speculation about the Duke and Duchess’s sex lives that have obsessed recent biographers, and she sidesteps the question of their fascist leanings as something outside the range of a movie like this. She even lets lie the irony of the Windsors’ private letters, which Wally eventually gets to read, being possessed by Mohamed Al-Fayed, a man with his own bitter experience of Great Britain’s treatment of its “Royals.” (His son was Dodi, who died in the car crash that killed Diana Spencer.)

It’s piffle, but if you have any taste for this kind of thing, pretty irresistible piffle.

Watch the trailer for W. E.

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