Madonna, an American pop star who is no stranger to scandal, says she could relate to Wallis Simpson, the controversial historic figure at the center of "W.E.," the royal romance she directed, produced and co-wrote.
Simpson was a U.S. socialite married to her second husband when she began an affair with Edward, prince of Wales, in the early 1930s. After his father, King George V, died, Edward succeeded him, but he abdicated the throne a short time later due to mounting pressure to give up Simpson since the Church of England at the time prohibited remarriage of a divorced person if his or her spouse was still alive. Edward's brother ultimately took his place and became King George VI. Colin Firth won an Oscar for his portrayal of George, father of Queen Elizabeth II, in last year's Best Picture Academy Award winner "The King's Speech."
Edward married Simpson in 1937, and they remained wed as the duke and duchess of Windsor until Edward's death in 1972 at age 77. Simpson died in 1986 at age 89.
Madonna, a globally successful Michigan-born recording artist known for her sexy, edgy image, also found herself in the midst of British society after she fell in love with English filmmaker Guy Ritchie. They married in 2000 and divorced in 2008. During their relationship the pop music icon famously embraced British country living from riding horses to hanging out in pubs to even adopting a vague British accent.
In "W.E.," Madonna intertwines the real-life royal couple's story with that of an unhappily married woman [played by Abbie Cornish] in 1990s New York who is obsessed with the romance of Wallis and Edward, played by Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy.
"I first heard the story [of Wallis and Edward] when I was in high school, in history class, learning about pre-war England, but I started to really get to know the details of the story when I got married and moved to England. And I felt a little bit, sort of lost and I felt like an outsider and I felt, 'OK, if I'm going to make myself real comfortable in this place, I'm going to learn about English history.' So, I started reading books and began with Henry VIII and I worked my way up to Edward VIII. And I stopped there because he gave up the throne for the woman he loved and in between Henry and Edward, no one had done that," Madonna told United Press International in New York recently. "I thought this was really interesting and intriguing and mystifying and I wanted to understand the nature of their relationship. Why would he do it? What did she have? What really took place? What must it have felt like for her? For him?"
Asked if she could relate to the story, the 53-year-old filmmaker replied: "I could to a certain extent because I know that Wallis Simpson moved to England at a certain point to kind of start her life all over after she married [her second husband, a partner in a British shipping firm] Ernest Simpson and I know she felt like an outsider for quite a long time and was treated like an outsider, I think, for the rest of her life, really, once she married Edward and he gave up the throne for her.
"She famously said, 'I will be the most hated woman in the world if you do this,'" Madonna explained. "And she was. She received thousands of hate letters a day for the rest of her life after that event. She saw the writing on the wall and it must have been very painful for her. When someone gives up being king for you, you have to make him feel like a king for the rest of your lives. And that must be hard and challenging, however much you love somebody. I don't think she had an easy life, but I do believe they truly loved each other."
Madonna, who now lives primarily in New York, said she believes being an outsider helped her tell this particular English story well because she had some distance from it.
"It's like when you go to Rome and Italians don't get how beautiful all the architecture is all around them because they wake up every day and see it," she told reporters. "It's kind of that same thing. I think I had the gift of objectivity in terms of being an outsider. ... But I did live in England for 10 years before I wrote the script and I did do a lot of research and I was married to a Brit and I feel like I did my homework and was speaking from a place of being informed."
The story is one she expects most moviegoers will be able to identify with on some level, she said.
"What's the story about? It's about how there is no such thing as perfect love," noted the star, who is also divorced from actor Sean Penn. "And we all come to that very painful discovery at one point in our lives or another. We all have our hearts broken. We all choose the wrong people for ourselves. We all think one person is going to make our life complete and if we're adults and we do enough self-examination, we realize, really, happiness lies in our own hands and it's when we make ourselves happy, we're actually whole enough to be with someone and be in a healthy relationship. So, I think that's an important message" of the film.
Madonna won a Golden Globe Award last month for "Masterpiece," a song she wrote and recorded for the "W.E." soundtrack.
The singer is to perform the half-time show at Sunday's Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and her new album "MDNA" is due out in March.