‘W.E.’: Big ambition, small budget

Thykier delivers Madonna's royal love story for $15 mil

When producer Kris Thykier boarded Madonna’s “W.E.” in the spring of 2010 he treated the movie like any other production: deliver the director’s vision while making something commercial.

“There was no profligacy here,” said Thykier. “We knew what we felt the movie should cost in terms of market opportunity and then matching Madonna’s ambition for the movie with that budget was a challenge.”

Ambitious it was. The $15 million pic is her second as a director and was financed by the singer with the U.K. tax credit. It’s structured as a parallel love story that sees a contemporary divorcee become consumed by the love affair of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.

Two interwoven stories spanning five decades and shot at 100 locations in three countries is the sort of structure that trips up even very experienced directors — especially when two of the four main subjects are as iconic as Wallis and Edward.

“Wallis was a fashion icon and therefore the costume and jewelry aspects of it were significant,” Thykier said. “They lived in a hugely opulent, aristocratic world and with the sets and costumes needed, it meant we had to deliver the goods.”

That meant nabbing the right cast, which includes Andrea Riseborough as Wallis and Abby Cornish as her modern day counterpart Wally, and getting a crew that could bring those details to the screen.

Step in costume designer Arianne Phillips (“Knight and Day”), hair and makeup designer Jenny Shircore (“The Young Victoria”) and production designer Martin Childs (“Shakespeare in Love”).

“Madonna had a very clear idea of the world she wanted to create,” said Thykier. “But what was impressive was her wish and ease with which she wanted to collaborate with the best possible people.”

Thykier stresses that the movie is very much a fictionalized view of the Duke and Duchess’ romance and life together but is “backed by enormous historical research.”

“What we wanted to get to was a truth about them and a truth about their world without necessarily trying to create a biopic.”

Thykier hopes auds will judge the film on its own merits, rather than as a Madonna product.

“When an iconic, global entity is involved it will be interesting to see how people react to that and whether people can judge the film without their own baggage or how they’ve felt about Madonna for 30 years.”