Friday, October 17, 2008

Mrs. Simpson at the movies

I've been neglecting this blog lately. Work's been using up all of my energy, among other things. But last night I finished my personal Wallis Simpson Film Festival.

The movies I watched were Edward & Mrs. Simpson, Wallis & Edward, Bertie & Elizabeth and The Woman He Loved. (The first three are available through Netflix; the final one isn't on DVD yet and I had to buy an old videotape of it on ebay.)

Of all of them, I have to say that Bertie & Elizabeth, in which Mrs. Simpson and Edward VII are supporting characters, was by far the best movie and the most historically accurate representation of them. We are shown a few examples of Mrs. Simpson's rude and inconsiderate behavior, and the self-centeredness of the future Edward VII, features missing from the movies which focused on them. The movie doesn't depict whatever strategems she used to bind the Prince of Wales to her, but all of the other characters have no doubt that it is ambition and not love that drives her.

The other three movies depict the story of the Prince of Wales and the American divorcée as a love story. Only The Woman He Loved showed the slightest skepticism about this interpretation. For instance, when Lady Furness asks her good friend Mrs. Simpson to "Take care of David while I'm gone" (David, in case any of you didn't know, being the name the Prince of Wales was called by his friends) and returns to discover that Mrs. Simpson has taken this request all too literally, we aren't given any excuse for this underhanded move. Wallis Simpson stole her friend's boyfriend, pure and simple. Also, while the newly crowned Edward VII was fighting to be allowed to marry her, Mrs. Simpson tells her Aunt Bessie, "I don't want to be Queen." Aunt Bessie replies, "Yes, you do. I know what's going on in your mind. You think that would make up for being so poor when you were a little girl." [Not a precise quotation from the movie.] Many historians have speculated that Mrs. Simpson indeed hoped to be Queen. It's likely that, being an American, she genuinely did not understand the constraints a king must live within. Our propaganda promotes the notion that kings are all despots with unlimited power, and I doubt that Mrs. Simpson had the discernment to see through this myth.

The Woman He Loved is also the only one of the movies focused on that pair that acknowledged Edward VII's Nazi sympathies in the least. It was a brief, throwaway scene, however, as if this were a matter of small importance. In Bertie & Elizabeth, by contrast, there is a scene where the titular couple, horrified, watch footage of the newly abdicated Duke of Windsor and his Duchess in Germany, giving the Hitler salute. It is said that when Edward VII abdicated, Hitler mourned, "I have lost a friend to my cause." Bertie & Elizabeth shows such contrast in the character of the royal brothers that the viewer is abundantly relieved that the reign of Edward VII was a brief one.

All of the movies deserve credit for having the actresses who played Wallis Simpson done up to look like the real historical personage, who was hardly a beauty. In addition, all of the actresses adopted the highly artificial manner of Wallis Simpson. None of the movies inflicts Tudors-style explicit scenes on us, not even dimly lit romanticized ones.

For those who, like me, love early-20th-century clothes, cars and music, all the movies are a feast for the eyes and ears. Edward & Mrs. Simpson had the additional bonus of opening with the old song, "I've danced with a man who's danced with a girl who's danced with the Prince of Wales."


Theodore Harvey said...

You mean Edward VIII, right?

Moshea bat Abraham said...

Um... yes. Make allowances, I'm a colonial.