About 50 years separates the two of them, but although they are products of very different eras, Wallis Simpson and Madonna have a lot in common. They are/were both staggeringly famous – notorious even, for their positions as well as their fashion choices, they’re both Americans that generated controversy in the UK by their choice of husband and, as Madonna adds in this candid, thoughtful interview with the BBC film critic, Will Gompertz in Venice, there’s another crucial aspect – that they were both misunderstood by the public that they held in thrall.
Madonna elaborates; ‘My aims in telling the story of Wallis Simpson were to portray her as a human being – as flawed as she was. I wanted people to know that she was in fact human, she was vulnerable, and she was a victim of her circumstance.
She has been very misaligned in her history books. I felt that after my investigations, I felt that is was my duty, in a way, to show another side of the story and to present her as a fully fleshed out human being.
The price of fame or the cult of celebrity, as I call it, [means that] once you become a public figure, it becomes very hard for people to give you more than one dimension to live in. You are reduced to a soundbite, [you have] two personality traits if you lucky, people cease to see you as a human being, and it’s extremely frustrating, because of course we are all human beings. You become acutely aware that there’s your persona out there that people think of you as and then there’s the person that you are behind closed doors when you’re living your life and it can often be frustrating because you spend most of your life going “hey, that’s not me – that’s not what I said that’s not what I did”. And I’m sure that Wallis Simpson felt the same way.’
Eloquently put Madonna. And after all this earnest theorising, and re-writing of history, Mr Gompertz puts to her the sixty squillion dollar question – ‘And have you read you reviews yet?’ to which the proud historic-realist and feminist polemicist Madonna giggles nervously, and replies with a girlish twinkle in her eye; ‘Not yet. I’m afraid to!’