Edward and Mrs. Simpson: aristocratic selfishness causes political crisis
I've been doing something of a deep dive in archaic television serials. I guess some of these could be called a "miniseries," since they aren't really a full season worth of programming, but the upshot is that I'm enjoying watching the old shows.
The latest offering is Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a drama about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson that culminated in the Abdication Crisis of 1936.
The show aired in 1978, after Edward's death but while the Duchess of Windsor (nee Wallis Warfield) was still alive. It is very respectful to the subject matter, and while it is taken for granted that Edward is carrying on a sexual affair with Mrs. Simpson, they never so much as make out.
That is to say, there is much discussion of bed-hopping, but all of it takes place off camera.
The story is quite well-known at this point, but I enjoyed this presentation, particularly Edward Fox's turn as Edward VIII. Fox was one of those English actors who never quite became a leading man, instead serving in a supporting role. To be sure, he played the assassin in Day of the Jackal, but it was a very restrained role with little dialog.
I think Fox does a splendid job, and many of the set pieces are designed to mimic known photographs or newsreels. Cynthia Harris (who I don't recall seeing before), is just as good as Wallis, and the pair establish a compelling (and likely accurate) dynamic of co-dependency that explains why Edward would cast aside the throne and throw the British Empire into crisis simply because of his desire to date older, married women.
I'm sure a more modern treatment would celebrate the victory of love over duty, but this 1978 version does the opposite, noting that at every turn, Edward tried to shirk his royal duties and always put pleasure before business. The picture that emerges is a fascinating one.
Traditionally, first-born children feel a heightened sense of obligation to their families, particularly since they may have to help manage the care of younger siblings. Edward seems to have been an exception to this rule, resentful of his birth and working tirelessly to avoid the responsibilities associated with his birthright.
In the end, of course, he succeeds, abandoning the throne in favor of his brother Bertie, who reigned as King George VI. After some vague intrigues during World War II (which resulted in Edward being the go-to monarch for alternative history regarding the UK), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor became little more than minor celebrities and part of the Continental social scene. The question of inheritance was moot because they produced no offspring, which was no surprising given that she was already nearly beyond child-bearing years when they met.
(There were of course salacious rumors about botched abortions and such to explain her lack of children.)
The one knock against the show isn't really against it at all, but rather FreeVee, which apparently owns the rights and streams via Amazon. FreeVee uses commercials to cover its costs, which was once standard practice (and still is in the broadcast world). However, the commercial breaks in Edward and Mrs. Simpson appear almost at random, cutting through a scene rather than the normal practice of doing it between them.
I think there's a fascinating parallel with Edward VIII and Henry VIII, and at some point I'll dig a little deeper into it.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.