Tuesday, July 9, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Edward & Mrs. Simpson

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Episodes draw you in and make the main characters human
Cons: Story telling techniques make it very hard to get into story
The Bottom Line
Not for casual
Viewing but if interested
Will find you enjoy

"What is Love Compared to Duty?"

Thanks to the Lady Georgiana books by Rhys Bowen (starting with Her Royal Spyness), I've gotten interested in the British royalty of the 1930's and especially the scandal involving Prince and then King Edward and the American Mrs. Simpson.  I decided it was time to learn a bit more about them, so I checked the 7 part mini-series Edward & Mrs. Simpson out of the library.  I almost gave up part way through the first episode, but despite some weaknesses, I'm glad I stuck it out.

As the first episode opens, we are introduced to the future King Edward the VIII (Edward Fox) as he plans a trip to Africa.  His biggest concern is which of his mistresses to take with him.  Even though he's in his 30's, he hasn't found a woman to settle down with, and continues his relationships with usually married women.

But then he meets American Wallis Simpson (Cynthia Harris).  Already divorced once, she is on her second husband, Ernest (Charles Keating).  The two quickly become part of Edward's inner circle of friends and are even invited to his country estate for weekend trips.

As the two grow closer, Edward's father dies and Edward becomes king.  But now Edward has to make a choice.  Will he remain king or marry Wallis?  Or is there another option where he can marry a twice divorced woman?  Would the country and the laws permit it if he did?

As I said, I almost quit in the middle of the first episode.  It was the production style that just got to me.  It involves many quick scenes with hardly any set up or explanation, and I spent forever trying to figure out just exactly who some of the people were and what was going on.  Even now, I don't quite get who a few people in that episode were.  Once Wallis arrived, I was able to follow things better, although the next episode was again hard to get into and follow.  By the third episode, I was fully on board and began to really enjoy the piece.

Not to say that things ever truly got better, but once you knew to expect some abruptness and got to know the key players, it did get much easier to follow.  It also helped that I got to know both of the leads and really did feel for them as they fell in love.  Edward becomes king at the end of the second episode, so much of it is spent on the almost year long efforts to reconcile the law with Edward's desire.  Contrast that with the 3 or 4 years that pass in the first two episodes, and you can see another reason the show gets better.

Maybe it's just that I'm the wrong audience.  This was a show made for British TV back in the 1970's, so maybe I just don't get the style they used.  It also shows in other ways, like the incidental music used in a scene but rarely between scenes and some of the scenes that seemed pointless to me.

But I did get into it as the story unfolded.  Once they slow down time, as it were, and start really focusing on the politics of what happened, it's hard to stop watching because you get drawn into the people and events depicted.

One thing that really helped me get into the story was the acting.  I liked all the players, and it made me root for all the characters to wind up happy (even though I already knew the outcome).  While I have heard that Wallis was not at all happy with how she was portrayed here, I thought the series did a good job of making both her and Edward sympathetic characters.  This was especially true when the scandal hit the press.  You gain a new appreciation for what celebrities face.

I also couldn't help but look at how far we've come.  Here was a scandal that lost someone his throne over divorce.  Now, people rarely blink at it, even for the British royalty.  Frankly, I think that's a sad commentary on our culture.

The mini-series consisted of seven 50 minute episodes, and they are included on this two disc set.  The picture could be a little better and sharper, but it is certainly watchable.  The set was released here in America by A&E, so the only extra we get is their Biography of the two principle players.  I watched that last, and it really helped fill in the gaps I still had from the show itself.  In fact, I almost wished I had watched that first.

Because of my interest in the people and time period, I am glad I watched Edward & Mrs. Simpson.  If I hadn't been already interested, I probably would have passed.  I recommend it, but only for those who want to learn more about this story.  The show won't survive casual interest.

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