TORONTO - Madonna's second foray into film direction will hit theatres just days before the Material Girl struts across the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show, and the critics would already appear to be running a blitz.

"W.E." has been dismissed as a "vanity project" by Entertainment Weekly, "borderline offensive" by the Los Angeles Times and "extraordinarily silly" and "fatally mishandled" by the Guardian.

When the film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Madonna suggested that some of that criticism had more to do with the film's high-profile director than its content, and star Andrea Riseborough agrees.

"I think it's always been a problem ... it's hard to separate one from one's work," the 30-year-old Brit said in an interview during the festival.

"I think it's very important that we look to the work always -- that we try to see the work with fresh eyes."

Riseborough herself said she came to the film free of any pre-conceptions about Madonna or the film's controversial subject, Wallis Simpson.

"W.E.," opening in Toronto on Friday, hops back and forth through time to tell the story of Simpson -- the divisive American whose romance with Edward VIII led to his abdication of the throne -- while Australian actress Abbie Cornish portrays a despondent modern woman who is obsessed with her.

Madonna, whose previous directorial project was 2008's "Filth and Wisdom," involved herself in virtually every part of "W.E.," from music to the script (which she co-wrote) to the lush set designs and intricate clothes, which recently received an Academy Award nomination for best achievement in costume design.

Riseborough said she didn't feel intimidated by the 53-year-old pop star, if only "because there's so little time for intimidation."

"Making a movie is no small feat, and there is so little time just from the outset," Riseborough said. "And you can enter into something being paralyzed by fear or you can just, you know, experience it.

"She was also incredibly warm and wonderful."

Cornish, the 29-year-old star of "Sucker Punch" and "Bright Star," does admit to some nerves about meeting Madonna.

They first communicated via Skype while Cornish was at her mother's house in Australia and Madonna was in New York -- "She might have even been one of the very first people I ever Skyped with," Cornish pointed out with a smile -- and Cornish must have made a good impression, because she was hired soon after the virtual conference.

"I think I had a little anxiety and some nerves about meeting her, because she's just such an incredible woman and such an icon," Cornish said during the festival.

"And I was so keen on the script and the story that I think that excitement kind of took over a little bit too."

Cornish, meanwhile, wasn't surprised at the lukewarm response from some critics to the film, but she wasn't concerned that the movie's famous director would do it harm in the long run.

"I think that's inevitable, definitely. And I mean, I think there's pros and cons to Madonna directing a film with regards to criticism.

"But yeah, I think she's made a really good film. I'm really proud of the film and I think she's really proud of the film."