By Mike Collett-White
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Madonna may be the "queen of pop," but her crown as movie director slipped this week after most early reviews of her second feature film "W.E." ranged from middling to poor.
The picture, which had its world premiere at the Venice film festival on Thursday, is loosely based on the life of American divorcee Wallis Simpson, whose affair with Kind Edward VIII led to his abdication.
Madonna said she had been fascinated by the story for some time, pondering why a man would make such a huge sacrifice for love.
Andrea Riseborough stars as Simpson and Abbie Cornish as a modern-day woman who becomes obsessed with the person who prompted a constitutional crisis in 1936.
Britain's Guardian newspaper did not spare Madonna's feelings with a one-out-of-five star review.
"Could it be that Madonna is in deadly earnest here?" wrote Xan Brooks.
"If so, her film is more risible than we had any right to expect; a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock."
Others were less damning, although the general tone was negative and one website quipped that it may be time for the 53-year-old singer to abdicate as a film maker.
Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter opined: "Madonna's second foray into directing is pleasing to the eyes and ears, but lacking anything for the soul."
And Mark Adams, chief critic for Screen Daily, wrote:
"Madonna aims high as she seeks to tackle love, celebrity, fame, abuse and disappointment, often hitting her targets -- and sometimes not -- but always offering up images that are beautifully shot and staged."
He singled out Riseborough's performance, which he described as "quite brilliant."
The Daily Telegraph gave W.E. three stars out of five, while Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail was generally complimentary.
"A lot of people will loathe it, simply because it's been made by Madonna," he wrote.
"But if they were to watch it with no knowledge of who directed, they would be pleasantly surprised. They might even find much of it enjoyable, although the odd moment may have them wondering if Madge has committed treason."
Some of Madonna's collaborators on the picture had wondered whether viewers' judgments might be colored by their opinion of the 53-year-old celebrity.
"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," producer Kris Thykier told trade publication Variety.
The budget of W.E. is estimated to be around $15 million, and it hits movie theatres in North America in December.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)