Hated by the British establishment, and one half of one of the most scandalous love affairs of the 20th century, Wallis Simpson was, and still remains, a divisive character in British royal history, and Tom Hooper’s new film “The King’s Speech” throws some light on their royally outrageous relationship.
“I’ve found that if you bring up King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson at a dinner party or a social gathering, it’s like throwing a Molotov cocktail into the room”, says Madonna, who’s directing a film exclusively about the relationship, to be called “W. E”. Wallis was the American socialite who stole the heart of King Edward VIII, and whose relationship with the king forced him to abdicate the throne just 325 days into his reign, to be replaced by his younger brother Albert.
“The King’s Speech” instead focused on Albert (played exceptionally well by Colin Firth) and his stutter, a problem which has affected him from the age of five, and threatens to get in the way of his ability to take on the new role of king. We explore in the film a different relationship, the budding friendship between him and his speech therapist Lionel (Geoffrey Rush), as they try to cure his emotionally debilitating stammer. The film is a gentle, beautiful and charmingly British piece of cinema – I must admit, I’m quite surprised by the incredible box office success it’s had in Britain – but clearly audiences are hankering for some old-fashioned British nostalgia and that is exactly what “The King’s Speech” delivers, with its clipped radio accents, conservative sense of humour, and gorgeous shots of grey London landscapes, and warm, patterned ‘30’s furnishings.
Even the oncoming threat of Hitler and World War II is rather bizarrely pushed aside, as the film ends with the threat of war being overshadowed by Albert’s succesfuly pronunciation of his speech. I don’t think this matters; the film seems to focus on the bonds of friendship between two very different men, and the need to find one’s voice within your chosen or allotted role, than it is really about the political climate of the time.
Nonetheless, while watching the film, I became intrigued by the character of Wallis Simpson, and her relationship with Edward. What could that possibly have meant for the Royals at the time? The English throne being usurped by an American harlot with a fondness for men, parties and expensive jewellery? A bit of research brought out some interesting facts and photos. Having made the ultimate sacrifice for their love, the couple spent the rest of their lives in exile, mainly in France. Wallis was an extremely glamorous woman, as these photos show.
Romantic love story, or outrageous royal scandal? Methinks both. Whatever it is, its a helluva lot more interesting than the next royal engagement…