Monday, August 15, 2011

Stylish Saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson and James D'Arcy as King Edward VIII

The last time we saw Wallis Simpson and Kind Edward VIII portrayed in a film was in the wonderful "The King's Speech" last year.  Despite the fact that they were a controversial couple, their romance has caught the popular imagination and many of us are in thrall to the story of King Edward abdicating the throne for the woman he loved. Theirs is one of the most famous love stories of the twentieth century.

"W.E." is the upcoming film directed by Madonna about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  I spotted these incredible photos by Tom Munro, via "Vanity Fair," which give us a sneak peak into what looks to be an exquisitely beautiful period film and costume drama filled with fashionable clothes, jewelry and gorgeous houses and settings.  No matter how people feel about her, Wallis Simpson has become a style icon in the fashion world.

"W.E." focuses on two love stories.  The first is that of Wallis Simpson  (played by Andrea Riseborough) and Britain's King Edward VIII (played by James D'Arcy), who gave up the throne to marry the twice-divorced American.  After Edward abdicated he and Wallis became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  However she was denied the title Her Royal Highness.  The second story is that of a contemporary New Yorker named Wally (Abbie Cornish) who falls for a security guard at Sotheby's and who identifies with that other, most sensational love affair of the 20th century.  For the fashions in the film, costume designer Arianne Phillips worked with such labels as Cartier, Dior, and Dunhill for the film's 60 or so wardrobe changes


Two new biographies on Wallis Simpson have recently been written.  The biographers are taking a new look at her and arguing against many of the popular assumptions about the "American Harlot," as she was known in England.  

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Ednam Lodge, Sunnydale, in October 1946

Both these books reflect an historical reassessment of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.  For example, historians are arguing that King Edward never wanted to be the king and asking the question what happens when you get a monarch who is constitutionally incapable of being one?  As I learned from a recent piece on NPR,

"Simpson's rehabilitation may take time.  As recently as 2008, the historical landmark organization English Heritage refused to put one of its famous blue plaques on the London building where she was courted by a king.  Simpson, it said, was unworthy of that kind of recognition."


Fort Belvedere

King Edward VIII was living at the country home Fort Belvedere when he abdicated the throne.  I was lucky enough to visit it last summer as part of the fabulous garden tour I went on in the English countryside.  The gardens at Fort Belvedere were breathtaking.  Though it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the history that took place here.  We saw the room where Kind Edward signed the document proclaiming that he had abdicated the throne.  (We were not allowed to take photos inside the house)  I had the chills.

Fort Belvedere is a country house on Shrubs Hill in Windsor Great Park, England.  It is a former royal residence -- from 1750 to 1976 -- and is most famous for being the home of King Edward VIII.  The property is currently occupied by private tenants, Canadian businessman Galen Weston and his wife Hilary Weston, the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

The gardens at Fort Belvedere were lovely and that's what we were there to see, but I was fascinated by all the history that took place at this residence.

Our group was given a proper English tea on this lovely patio under the trees on the gorgeous grounds of Fort Belvedere.


Now that I know about the new books on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,  I am looking forward to learning more about these two controversial figures, and perhaps seeing another side of the picture.  They had a huge impact on world history and are the subjects of one of the most famous romances of the twentieth century.  And in the fashion world, the Wallis Simpson buzz is building and it looks as if this will be the year, fashion-wise, of Wallis Simpson.


  1. The Vanity Fair photographs are beautiful, and I love the striped dress. I'm looking forward to the film. Thanks for letting us know about the new biographies too - will choose one of them to read. I have always been intrigued by them, and felt that they were actually sort of "tragic" figures, leading a life without much purpose - my sense of that comes from the photos of them, something in their expressions and eyes that suggest a profound loneliness to me. Curious to know more.

  2. The photographs are exceptionally lush and appealing. Kathy's already wanting that blue, horizontal stripe dress, which I think is beautiful as well.
    My notions of both Edward and Wallis are the superficial ones formed by the several films we've all seen in which they appear.There had to be more to her than was obvious, so I'm also curious to read one of these new ones.
    I also enjoyed your post on the Murphy's and will comment there.
    The romance of these times seems to fill every molecule of air they all breathed. I'm envious. And the clothes...for both men and women, wow.
    It's nice to live in a bespoke world.

  3. What a beautiful post, Sunday. I am, of course, first drawn to the lush gardens, then, you intrigue me with Wallis and Edward. I know I will see the film, just as I know I will seek out these books and learn more. Thank you.

  4. Cannot wait for that movie! Those pics are stunners. By the way, did you know that today is Madonna's birthday?? xoxo

  5. I saw with interest the Vanity Fair article. If nothing else, the costumes and jewelry should be fabulous!! How lucky that you got to go on a tour of Fort Belvedere - the garden are just beautiful!! I'm sure you'll get to these books before me - I'll be curious to hear your opinion!!

  6. I will definitely see this film and my goodness she looks like the Duchess.
    I read Lorrie Graham's book about the couple and now I see that I'll need to add a few more to my reading list.
    Belvedere and the gardens look must have had a delightful time perusing the grounds.

  7. Loved this post Sunday! Your attention to detail is wonderful. I am going to be sure to add Fort Belvedere to my list as well as these books. Am most curious to see how they are portrayed in the movie as well.

    Best wishes Sunday and thank you for this special post. :)

    Jeanne xxx

  8. Thanks for a wonderful post. I can't wait for the movie either and shall look for the Vanity Fair article. Thanks for all of the photographs. I love to read about the royals...even the fallen ones.
    I'm so glad you stopped by the cottage today so I could 'discover' your delightful blog.
    xo, Rosemary

  9. Thanks so much for stopping by, and so glad I saw your shots of Ft Belvedere. I've been a huge fan of W & E since watching 'Edward & Mrs Simpson' when it first appeared on Masterpiece when I was in high school (1970's -- yikes). Saw the spread in VF and eagerly awaiting Madonna's movie. Hope it doesn't disappoint!

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  11. May I ask how you ever found a tour to Fort Belvedere gardens? Would love to see this garden, Highgrove, Hicote, and Sissinghurst. Think it is possible?

  12. I'm reading backwards on your posts, since I just discovered you. These look like wonderful books. I will search them out. It sounds like a wonderful trip you took.