German Academy Award-winning cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski, whose credits include The Lives of Others and The Young Victoria, has found that he is attracted to film projects that are personal, and he has lent this personal touch to Madonna’s film, W.E..
“When I did The Young Victoria, it was a very big but personal film,” Bogdanski said. “And of course The Lives of Others was a very personal, political drama.”
Bogdanski believes his personal approach in these films is part of what led Madonna to consider him for director of photography for her film, W.E. – a story which is certainly aided by Bogdanski’s techniques.
The story begins in 1998, as Manhattan anxiously awaits the auction of the estate of Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Wally Winthrop, played by Abbie Cornish, becomes obsessed with the love story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. Andrea Riseborough plays the chic, charismatic American, who captured the heart of King Edward VIII, played by James D’Arcy.
Madonna and the rest of the film’s creators searched through various publications and films over the course of their research.
“We read many books, saw lots of pictures and of course lots of blueprints of other films,” Bogdanksi said. “So our visual references for different styles inside this film came from a heavy mixture of art, movies and photography.”
Some films reviewed ranged from pieces by artists such Jean Luc Godard and Alain Resnais to recent films such as Amelie and La Vie En Rose.
“For me it is a love story,” Bogdanski said. “I am not so into the political world or the technical world, but for me it was a love story between Wallis and King Edward.”
Bogdanski said he was initially drawn to W.E. when he heard it was a period piece that unfolds simultaneously in 1937 and 1998. Bogdanski said the juxtaposition of the two eras “presents a lot of flashbacks so there are a lot of opportunities for a cinematographer.”
In order to emphasize change in time period and in tone, a few different film stocks were used. W.E. was shot primarily in 35mm with 16mm used “as a kind of punctuation whenever I wanted to go in close or for something intimate,” Madonna said.
She went on to say that Super 8 was used for flashbacks to the Duke and Duchess, giving the sense that someone else had been filming those moments, and it was part of an archive.
“Then we used real archival footage to give the film another layer of reality and authenticity,” Madonna said. “You realize how good James and Andrea are, because they are next to the real people, and they’re doing a magnificent job.”