Director: Saul Dibb
Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.theduchessmovie.com/
Day: 1 January 2009
Long before the concept existed, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley), was the original "It Girl." Like her direct descendant Princess Diana, she was ravishing, glamorous and adored by an entire country. Determined to be a player in the wider affairs of the world, she proved that she could out-gamble, out-drink and outwit most of the aristocratic men who surrounded her. She helped usher in sweeping changes to England as a leader of the forward-thinking Whig Party. But even as her power and popularity grew, she was haunted by the fact that the only man in England she seemingly could not seduce was her very own husband, the Duke (Ralph Fiennes). And when she tried to find her own way to be true to her heart and loyal to her duty, the resulting controversies and convoluted liaisons would leave all of London talking.
"The Duchess" is the story of an extraordinary woman who rose to fame by staying true to her passions in a world of protocol, gossip and social rules – and paid the price.
Director Saul Dibb brings about the similarities inherent between the Duchess of Devonshire Georgiana Cavendish (Keira Knightley) and her ancestor, Princess Diana in the “The Duchess” through key snapshots—the affairs of both parties, the inescapable monotony of agreements, the burden of celebrity and the resulting activism, the prized progenies—of the young Duchess’s life in her tumultuous union with the powerful Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), which was brokered by her mother, Lady Spencer (the wonderfully severe Charlotte Rampling).
In its most striking form, the film meanders between the sacrifices of love and dignity made by women in the Georgiana’s day. The act of marriage becomes just that—an act of arrangement, a loveless sham made to fit social conformity. Consider an early scene as Georgiana sits in a carriage with her precious children, as the camera cuts away to the Duke, alone in his carriage with his beloved dogs.
There’s also common ground to be had with the year’s other costume period drama in “The Other Boleyn Girl”, a superior film in terms of handling the lurid sacrifices and sentimental tragedies of young women navigating their way through social and historical injustices in the hallways of power—the urgency of spawning male heirs, the deviancies and the ménage a trois of sex and betrayals—but “The Duchess” lacks the dark intensity of the former by nullifying its intrigue in the backdoors of high society when Dibb presents Georgiana’s story in the rather impeccably tasteful British mien, resulting in a subdued and sterile fascination of its gist.
However, the film is thankfully centred on more than just Knightley’s above average portrayal of the Duchess (she pulls off a couple of scenes worthy of her Oscar reel) as Fiennes’s performance here proves exceptional and lifts the film from being a lush bore by shading in the outline of the Duke, a man who is slowly shown to be the complete antithesis of Georgiana’s romantic idealist. He is a man driven by Machiavellian intents—an unhappy, jealous misanthropist with a dangerous inner anger—but Fiennes elevates him into a character filled with a reservoir of pathos, barely hiding his guilt through cheerless eyes that yearn to become a better person but settles on a forgivable creature of habits and graceless trappings.
(Come for the Duchess, stay for the Duke)
Review by Justin Deimen