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Stars: Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy, Abbie Cornish, Richard Coyle, Oscar Isaac, Laurence Fox, James Fox, Judy Parfitt, Geoffrey Palmer

Director: Madonna

Let's get one thing straight. Madonna's tribute to the Duchess of Windsor looks great. But that's about it. The screenplay is a thing of bits and pieces that parallels the story of the Duchess (brittly played by Riseborough) with that of a modern American woman (Cornish) - named after Wallis Simpson and unhealthily obsessed by her - who's abused both physically and mentally by her adulterous husband for little apparent reason.

The story flicks between one and the other like a distraught dragonfly, never settling in one place (or year) long enough to hold our attention and even, in the Duchess's case, dodging backwards and forwards in time. Its grasp of history, too, is, to say the least, shaky: one minute Edward (D'Arcy) is king, the next he has reverted to prince, to say nothing of the clanger when it's announced that Edward's father, 'George III', has died (madness!).

It gets weirder as it goes on, and we long for concentration on the historical facts rather than the less-than-interesting modern story, which is dealt with in far too much detail, especially with Wally holding pretend conversations with the Duchess, who offers sage advice. The writing is no better than TV movie-competent and the acting often gives it more body than it deserves.

Aussie Cornish's American accent is slightly more consistent than Brit Riseborough's (were there no real American actresses around?), though the latter delves as deeply into her character as the script will allow - besides looking quite a bit like her. Isaac as Cornish's suitor has a decent Russian accent, although the character is tedious, while James Fox almost disappears beneath werewolf whiskers as George V, and his real-life son Laurence fails to convince us that he hasn't just nipped over from an episode of TV's Lewis.

Unlike the dancing Duchess, Madonna's folly has feet of lead. One can see what she was trying to do, even to the imagined dialogues between the two Wallies, but it just doesn't work.

David Quinlan

UK 2011. UK Distributor: StudioCanal (Weinstein Company). Colour by deluxe/Technicolor.
118 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 17 Jan 2012