Wallis & Edward



10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12
BBC America

Princess Diana had nothing on Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman whose relationship to Britain's royal family remains the scandalous standard by which all others will forever be measured. Her affair with, and ultimately marriage to King Edward VIII in the 1930s led to Edward's having to abdicate the throne just before his ascension to King in 1936.

"Wallis & Edward" is a complex story of star-crossed love (and perhaps bullheadedness) conquering all as well as the stodgy tradition that strangles those inside the monarchy, and this BBC America flick tells the tale with a tantalizing soapy goodness. It is bolstered by a singularly affecting performance by Joely Richardson as Wallis. She commands the screen with charismatic flair, leaving little doubt how a woman like her could have so captured the heart of a man who had his pick of the female litter. That he chose a lady whom his family members rejected out of hand as a pariah serves to illustrate just how confining and petty things are in this decorum-steeped world.

"Wallis" follows things beginning in 1931, when Edward (played with rebellious fervor by Stephen Campbell Moore) still is the Prince of Wales and finds himself instantly infatuated by Wallis. Unfortunately, she's still married to Ernest Simpson (nice work from David Westhead), but that doesn't stop Ed from pursuing her in, uh, earnest. It's awkward for Wallis, being coveted and wined and dined and increasingly demonized by the British aristocracy and citizenry. But she learns to live with it. She's installed as Edward's regular mistress. Then once Edward's father dies, Wallis divorces and the struggle to hold onto power and Wallis begins. It would prove a fruitless battle, but one that makes for bloody good viewing that comes complete with an instructive lesson: being king sucks, and then you die -- but love is forever.