Madonna has found her Duchess of Windsor – and it’s all thanks to Margaret Thatcher.
The singer has injected some energy into her once troubled film W.E., about Edward VIII’s Abdication crisis and the so-called romance of the century between Edward and twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, by casting rising star Andrea Riseborough, who portrayed the young Mrs Thatcher in BBC drama The Long Walk To Finchley, as Mrs Simpson, who later became the Duchess of Windsor.
In W.E. (it stands for Wallis and Edward), the script calls for the Duchess’s age to range from late 20s to late 60s.
Colin Vaines, W.E.’s producer, told me Madonna was particularly struck by how well Andrea portrayed the former prime minister – and also by her performance as a schoolgirl in Sam Taylor Wood’s short film Love You More.
‘She was just amazed at how Andrea can go across the full range,’ Vaines added.
Vaines told me Madonna’s ‘passionate about making and telling the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’, though it will be told through the eyes of a contemporary figure, an American woman named Wally who becomes fascinated by the Windsor love affair when there’s an exhibition of the Duchess’s valuables before an auction in New York.
Abi Cornish, as this column revealed in January, will play Wally while Oscar Isaac, the hot American actor, will play a highly educated security guard who falls in love with the married Wally.
(Isaac can be seen on big screens at the moment as King John in the new Robin Hood picture.)
Andrea told me how she and Madonna initially met for 90 minutes to discuss the part when Vera Farmiga withdrew after becoming pregnant.
‘Madonna has read pretty much every book on the Duke and Duchess and I have been absorbing as much as possible about the Duchess, and speaking to people who knew her.
‘What’s fascinating is that this is the woman a king gave up the crown for, and that must have been such a heavy responsibility for her, as well as him.
‘She begged him to remain on the throne – she would rather have stayed as his mistress.
‘And I wonder what it must have been like after the Abdication? Did they hate each other or did they love each other? They were so compelling and enigmatic,’ Andrea told me.
Filming will begin in July on locations in London, Paris and New York, and the script has gone through several rewrites since I last read it and now seems much stronger.
Could it be that I have misjudged Her Maj and that the film won’t be bonkers after all?
Her people in Cannes told me that Madonna has realised that she has to focus totally on the film.
‘She can’t just snap her fingers and things happen, as has sometimes been the case on other projects. She understands that she has to roll her sleeves up and work harder than everyone else on the movie’s payroll,’ I was told.
Well, for now at least, I bow to Madonna.