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September 18, 2008

"The Duchess" Starring Keira Knightley: A Review

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The_dutchess_weddingGo see the new movie "The Duchess" and I promise you, by the time you leave the theatre, all those daily problems you have as a woman in the modern world will seem like nothing compared to the trap that was eighteenth century womanhood. 

Even titled, high society, wealthy, eighteenth century womanhood.

As my girlfriend Kay likes to say, "The good old days weren't all that good...just old."

Starring Keira Knightley (pictured left) in another very solid performance, "The Duchess" is the story of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, her life, her one true love, her children and her miserable jail of a marriage.

Kind of like her descendant, the late Lady Diana Spencer, The Princess of Wales, Georgiana Spencer found herself betrothed, wedded and bedded before she could bat a false eyelash, though even she at the time thought it was a good match.

Boy was she wrong.

Ralph Fiennes is her icy cold Duke of a husband whose only concern is having a son and satisfying his own needs.  That leads to his eventually installing Georgiana's best friend as his live-in, yeah, you heard me, live-in mistress.  What's Georgiana supposed to do about that?  Why, smile and say, "That's nice dear."

Earlier in the movie, on their wedding night, the Duke is perfunctorily removing Georgiana's many layers of clothing and asks with puzzlement why women's clothes are so complicated.  Georgiana responds something to the effect that, it's one of the only ways women have of expressing themselves.  As a modern woman with so many choices available to me, it was a jolting line of dialogue, heavy with historical meaning, and incredibly sad.

Based on Amanda Foreman's bestselling biography, "Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire," "The Duchess" is a sumptuous display of period excess, meaning the costumes and sets are beyond spectacular. 

Just going to the movie's website is a delectable treat and I found myself browsing through photo after photo of costumes designed by Michael O'Connor and reading through the production notes, "Recreating Mad George's England," about how director Saul Dibb, cinematographer Gyula Pados, and production designer Michael Carlin used the massive Chatsworth House, the seat of the real Dukes of Devonshire, to add authenticity.  Veteran composer Rachel Portman wrote the lovely soundtrack.

Though I saw this movie at a freebie screening, my movie litmus test is always, would I have been happy if I'd paid $10 for it?  In the case of "The Duchess," absolutely.   

"The Duchess" opens in limited release tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Nick Wall, Copyright Paramount Vantage.


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