"The Duchess" is a wonderful costume drama based on the life of Princess Diana's ancestor Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, who was celebrated and scandalous in her time, which was late 18th century England.
Georgiana was given in an arranged marriage to the Duke of Devonshire (a wonderful performance by Ralph Fiennes), who had only met her twice previously. The Duke is desperate for a male heir, and soon, Georgiana soon finds herself in a loveless marriage and the mother of three girls - two born of Georgiana and one born of a maid who had an affair with Devonshire. Even after bearing the indignities of her husband constant affairs, Georgiana becomes a darling of English society, known for her fashion sense, political activism, and love of gambling.
But Georgiana draws the line, or tries to draw the line, when Devonshire takes a live-in lover and her three children. She eventually begins an affair with a young politician that threatens her way of life.
The film paints an appropriately bleak picture of what it was like for a woman in those days. Georgiana is a beautiful, intelligent, and charming young woman whose only hope in life is that she happens to marry someone who loves her and will treat her like a human being. As it turns out, Devonshire becomes increasingly unlikeable as he expects Georgiana to abide by his affairs, then sit in silence as he keeps another woman and her children under their roof, and not just any woman, but one that had become a good friend of Georgiana.
The movie is beautifully filmed and the performances are very good. The story tells a compelling story of a woman trapped by her times and circumstances and forced to make terrible choices.
on December 7, 2008
A lot of people think of British period drama as stuffy and boring, a reputation it occasionally does something to deserve, but history is anything but dull, and if you were under the impression that the past was a place of strong moral values and happy marriages that has given way to our current immoral society full of single parents and extramarital affairs, think again. Consider the subject of the life of Georgiana Spenser Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley).
Married young by her mother (Charlotte Rampling, in a wonderfully controlled performance) to William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), the foremost peer of the realm, she finds quickly that her husband (who she met only twice beforehand) is a cold and distant fellow who is only interested in a male heir. Already tasked to mother his bastard daughter Charlotte, she gives birth to two daughters, to the disgust of the Duke, who has a series of mistresses that she tolerates. The Duchess becomes a social marvel, hobnobbing with Whig politicians like Charles James Fox (Simon McBurney) and Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper, later 2nd Earl Grey and Prime Minister) and politician/esteemed playwright Richard Sheridan (Aidan McArdle), whose "School for Scandal" was based heavily on the Cavendishes' marriage. She eventually finds a close friend in Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster (Hayley Atwell), and invites her to live with them, which turns out to have dangerous consequences when the Duke initiates an affair with her, and refuses to expel her. She then finds herself living in a forced menage a trois (subtle humour found in the three of them eating silent breakfasts together). Understandably, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Grey.
The dramatic core of "The Duchess" is an examination of the limited social prospects for women in this period (though, as an aside, one imagines a great many poor women from this period would gladly enter a loveless marriage to live like Georgiana does), and their limited legal rights. Both Bess and Georgiana face adulterous husbands who hold over them the prospect of never seeing their children again as a price of leaving; getting her children back is, indeed, Bess's motive for embarking on her affair with the Duke, who, as a powerful lord, is easily able to finagle it. Georgiana, likewise, initially decides to choose freedom over her daughters, but cannot. The Duke, for his part, is a controlling fellow, raised in a very patriarchal worldview; Fiennes expertly shows his emotional straitjacketing, which at odd moments make him mildly sympathetic, though he mostly is not, particularly at the conception of his long-desired son. He's normally at a loss when called to talk about feelings.
Keira Knightley, once again travelling back in time to the 18th century (her fifth or sixth visit, I believe), does a fine job as Georgiana. Hayley Atwell is likewise very good as Bess, a character who walks the finest line between sympathy and dislike from the audience. There's a curious scene included which seems to suggest at a rather different dynamic between the two women, though this doesn't go anywhere. Fiennes, as mentioned, does his best in a rather staid role. Dominic Cooper as the young semi-radical Grey is suitable, though not of the same calibre as the other actors. McBurney and McArdle are scene-stealers in small parts as Georgiana's sympathetic male acquaintances. The set design, as one would expect, is stunning.
While not in the highest tier of British period pieces, this is a fine addition to the genre.
A sad testament to the rigors of 18th century English society and women's roles, The Duchess tells the story of Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightly) and her marriage to the older Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). The product of a society that relegates women to window dressing and child-bearing, at sixteen Georgiana is filled with romantic notions and little information about the demands of marriage. Frolicking with her companions on the lawn of her family's estate- including future prime minister and lover Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) - Georgiana is thrilled to learn of a marriage proposal by the impressive Duke of Devonshire. All the duke requires is a male heir and his bride-to-be is certainly capable of fulfilling her husband's demands. On the pointed advice of her mother (an intimidating Charlotte Rampling), Georgiana casts her self into the role of wife, quickly disabused of any frivolous romantic notions on her wedding night. Unfortunately, Georgiana bears the duke three girls, her husband increasingly chagrined and ill-tempered as his wife disappoints him with the birth of each new daughter.
Stoic and rigid when it comes to his wife, Fiennes plays the distant husband to perfection, indulging in extra-marital affairs and ignoring his wife's obvious suffering when she discovers his penchant for callous infidelity. Georgiana responds as best she can, given the restraints of society, becoming the darling of the social set, charming and witty, a trendsetter who captivates the imaginations of those who enjoy her company, male and female. One admirer is Whig party leader Charles Fox, but there are many. Georgiana is a skillful raconteur regardless of her deep disappointment with marriage. On an outing to Bath, Georgiana makes a new friend, a woman suffering the loss of her children through her powerful husband's interference. The kind-hearted Georgiana welcomes this woman into her home only to know the most grievous betrayal of all and the beginning of her deepest despair.
Georgiana's is a tragic life, a woman trapped by society's expectations. Knightly captures the essence of this woman's dilemma, her fresh beauty quickly marred by the reality of her situation. The one time Georgiana dares to break from her restrictive marriage and cold husband, seeking love in the arms of her lover, Charles Grey, she suffers immediate repercussions, brought quickly to heel by the man who controls every aspect of her life, especially her children. English society is not kind to women when they escape the boundaries set by men. As much as Georgiana is loved by the public, her behavior is scandalous. Although a somewhat repentant duke welcomes his defeated wife home, it begs belief that Georgiana's life would really change for the better, save her acceptance of the limitations of the marriage. Still, this is a thoughtful commentary on the marriage of a spirited young woman who endures a similar fate long before the memorable Diana Spencer, her relative. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
on February 5, 2011
After reading the book this movie is supposed to be "based" upon, "Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire" by Amanda Foreman, I was really looking forward to the movie, especially after reading many Rave Reviews.
But in the end its just another dull Period Costume Drama. The vivid personality of Georgianna is blurred right from the beginning when she agrees to a loveless marriage arranged by her ambitious parents. In reality, according to the book, it was Georgiana who was ambitious; her parents actually counseled her NOT to marry the insipid dullard-Duke who did not love her.
Her enduring and passionate friendship with Elizabeth Foster is (at first) minimized in the movie, because Mrs. Foster was also the Duke's mistress; when Georgiana in reality did not seem to care in the least, and raised Elizabeth & The Duke's daughter as her own. Perhaps the Producers of the movie didn't think their audience could believe in such a friendship. Elizabeth herself is not at all interesting in the movie, when she must have been quite remarkable to command the devotion of the Duchess AND Duke (after Georgianna died, the Duke married Elizabeth).
Another remarkable incident in Georgianna's life is that that the Duchess was wandering around (traveling) in revolutionary France when pregnant with the Heir, and had to invite several impartial witnesses to her labor & delivery to affirm that the Heir *was* legitimate. This is entirely ignored in the movie.
Worst of all, Georgianna's remarkable intellect & abilities are not demonstrated AT ALL. She could be any bimbo aristocrat. And her tragic and hugely troubling addiction to gambling, which was a horrible blight upon her marriage & life: just ... ignored.
Very pretty dresses, though. Bleah.
Having been a long-time fan of period dramas, I was eagerly anticipating the release of The Duchess on DVD [having had no time to go to the cinema], and watched it last night. I must say I was very impressed at the production quality of the movie and the overall acting caliber of the actors.
Though the movie is based on a biography, Amanda Foreman's "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire", my review is based on just the movie for I have yet to read the book. The movie basically portrays the life of Georgiana [Keira Knightley in one of her best roles to date], an 18th century aristocrat who at a very young age, not quite 18, is married off by her ambitious mother [a suitably icy performance by Charlotte Rampling] to
the Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish [Ralph Fiennes in a remarkably controlled performance]. Though Georgiana's mother and the Duke enter into the marriage contract with the understanding that Georgiana's main role would be to provide William with a male heir, the girl herself naively believes [and is helped along by her calculating mother] that the Duke loves her.
Georgiana's illusion of a marriage based on love is abruptly torn to shreds when she arrives at the Duke's palatial home - her 'induction' into the carnal aspects of marriage leave her feeling cold and unfulfilled, the Duke turns out to be a man who is emotionally distant and not given to sentimentality, and worst of all, he is also an adulterous cad, having affairs with lowly maids [right under Georgiana's nose] and even upper class ladies, one of whom is Georgiana's supposed best friend, Lady Bess Foster [Hayley Atwell].
The menage a trois between the Duke, Duchess and Bess makes for compelling viewing in and of itself - though Georgiana insists Bess is thrown out of their home [Georgiana had initially asked Bess to live with them due to Bess' impoverished circumstances], the Duke refuses, and this gives rise to a very awkward living situation. The silent dining, the visitations by Bess' three sons [of whom she was initially denied access to by her estranged husband], and Georgiana's hurt at witnessing true affection between Bess and the Duke when she herself is deprived of love is heartrending to watch.
Georgiana however, does find love - with Charles Grey [Dominic Cooper] who is a fast-rising politician. Their love is mutual and Georgiana finally finds in Charles a man who truly loves her for who she is.It was such a joy to witness their intimate scenes [not just the sexual part of it] for in these scenes, we truly see Georgiana come alive and her face is filled with the radiance of a woman fulfilled.
The story of the Duchess of Devonshire is ultimately the story of a woman who lives in a gilded cage - her wealth doesn't shield her from the other pitfalls of life, namely of a loveless marriage and the confines her position places her in. Even in finding true love, she realises there is a high price to pay for dalliances, especially if one is a woman. In one of her confrontations with the Duke, Georgiana asks "Why can't I have what you and Bess have?" and this is a stark reminder that life as a woman back then was a life of repression and submissiveness.
I felt the main actors did a fine job in their performances. Keira Knightley shines as the unhappy Duchess who goes from a carefree young girl in the opening scene to a fashion icon whose unhappy marriage becomes fodder for gossips and even plays, and who ultimately, in utter resignation, comes to accept the confines of her position and the practical realities of her marriage. Ralph Fiennes is simply amazing as the Duke, a man who is so emotionally-restrained, he comes across as ruthless and cruel, though he does reveal a capacity for empathy in some scenes. He is merely a product of his times and a man bound to duty more than anything else.
All in all, "The Duchess" is an emotionally-wrenching human drama that will appeal to fans of period movies. It is filled with sumptuous costumes, lush depictions of the English countryside and a haunting score. Highly recommended!
on May 25, 2009
It's obvious that the makers of "The Duchess" were attempting to draw a parallel between the more recent foibles in the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Usually, I don't like these period pieces where usually the ornate settings and lavish costumes overwhelm the story. This one intrigued me in a Tennessee Williams or John O'Hara kind of way. Yes, the film is a potboiler but not one to easily dismiss. The film teeters at time towards parody but ultimately it grounds itself in reality. It helps that the leads are two superb actors. Keira Knightley projects a stiff upper lip as the Duchess of Devonshire, a woman forced to suffer indignity because of the strict mores of the time. Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire adds weight to a role that could very well be caricature. He imbues some modicum of sympathy to a man that is an absolute cad. This isn't a great film but it's certainly an interesting one.
on March 9, 2010
While visually stunning, this movie was pretty much pointless. Real Georgiana was a more complex person than the one portrayed by Keira Knightley, and her life was never defined just by her desire for a happy marriage. She was influential, she had power and admiration, and in this movie the Duchess was reduced to a rich doormat. Georgina's real life story was significantly more exciting. This tepid my-husband-doesn't-love-me-and-doesn't-allow-me-to-have-a-lover version didn't do this notable woman any justice. No depth, no dimensions to the story. Moderately entertaining movie, but deserves not more than an OK rating. Rent it.
The year is 1774, and 17-year old Georgiana hopes her marriage to the much older Duke of Devonshire will be a love match. Sadly, he's cold and distant and has a series of paramours, one of whom moves right into the family home with them.
Keira Knightly is perfect as the doomed Duchess; she gives a sensitive performance as Georgiana grows from spunky girl to political hostess to submissive wife. Ralph Fiennes plays the odious Duke masterfully. Based on a true story, the movie highlights many events in Georgiana's that would later be repeated by her descendant, Princess Diana; Georgiana's husband was uninterested in her, cared only for an heir, and carried on an affair that lasted for 25 years. Also like Diana, Georgiana was the most important fashionista of her day, loved by the people, and the darling of the London gossip columnists.
The exquisite costumes won an Academy Award and the grand English homes (including Chatsworth House where Georgiana lived with the Duke) are breathtaking. The atmospheric photography features golden candlelight and natural sunlight. This is everything a period drama should be - a riveting true story that's lovely to look at with flawless acting. Highly recommended.
on February 23, 2009
Visually exquisite, The Duchess is a very tastefully done period piece, and by that I mean nothing in the way of gratuitous nudity or violence, such a rarity in films today that I think it deserves high praise on this score alone.
Ralph Fiennes turns in his usual skillful performance, revealing depth and layers to the generally unlikeable character of the Duke of Devonshire. A less capable actor might have played this as a flat, one-dimensional personality. Kiera Knightly is generally pretty good as the Duchesss, but it seemed like she didn't quite have a strong enough presence to make this film as compelling as I thought it could have been. A part of that may be that her looks are very striking-21st century-supermodelish and I found this to be a distraction, and that made it hard for me to stay in the time period.
Despite the fairly good pacing, something in the story line is lacking. There is no real "punch" here..leaving the unfolding of events a little colorless and flat. One of the biggest criticisms I have is in the development of the relationship between the Duchess and Charles Grey - this could've been built up better; also, these two actors seemed to have zero chemistry together.
The costumes, settings and scenery are enchanting enough that I would have been content to watch this even if it had no plot. Yes, there are certainly better period films out there, but if you like the genre as I do, I think you'll enjoy this one.
on December 15, 2013
If you have read the book you will be sorely disappointed. This movie contains about 20% or less of what's in the book. I give it one star for her clothes, and one star for how much I hated her husband. Otherwise , the Duchess was not even portrayed well. It's not Knightley's fault. I will remember who wrote the screenplay so I don't have to torture myself with any more of this writer's movies.