WARNING: After you pass this line you run the risk of reading about aspects of The Duchess you may not want to know until you see it for yourself. If you have seen the film, by all means please continue and be sure to leave your opinion as well. If not, please move on to other gossip unless you don’t mind spoilers!
The Duchess begins with a young Georgiana or Gee, as she is known throughout the film, when she finds she is about to leave her childhood home and marry the “most powerful peer,” the Duke of Devonshire, hereafter known as William. After an awkward wedding night, Gee quickly discovers that married life is disenchanting with her socially-awkward and cold husband who only sees her as a vessel for heirs. He immediately forces her to accept his bastard daughter Charlotte whom she eventually loves as her own. Two daughters quickly follow, much to William’s chagrin. We are then introduced to Bess Foster, the sassy dark enchantress who Gee instantly feels a connection to after seeing her interact with William at a ball. The two instantly become friends and Bess moves in with the Devonshires but Gee’s world crumbles when she discovers that William and Bess are having an affair behind her back. This leads to Gee having her own affair with Charles Grey, a childhood friend. When their affair is discovered, William gives her the option of choosing between Grey and her own children and she picks her children. Unfortunately at this time she finds she is pregnant with Grey’s child, whom she has to give up in a heart-wrenching scene of motherly pain. Then she comes back home and goes to a party. The end.
The Film as a Film
Rating: 4 Stars
I did like this movie. However, when I was watching it I didn’t see my Georgiana or Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana, or maybe even the real Georgiana. But I will get to that later. The movie as a movie was pretty good.
Saul Dibb proved he could play with the big boys of costume dramas. I found his art direction to be well done especially in giving the viewers a window in the emotions of the characters. This comes with the exception of the wedding scene in which we have a close up of Gee's head as she takes a five minute walk up the hour. At this point my companion, Cac went "I'm getting kinda uncomfortable being this close to her for this long." The relatively unknown Rachel Portman composed the score and did a phenomenal job with the music. If only the soundtrack was longer!
The writing did not impress me but still managed to be entertaining. There were at least two lines that had me burst out laughing due to cheese-factor. They escape me now, but I recall the Duke saying one of them. It made me wonder if there were more silly lines that just escaped me because of the actors’ performances. Why does every English 18th century flick lack what the French ones include: frivolousness. It was a time of gaiety, parties and gambling, people weren’t so stuffy. There should have been many scenes of gambling and parties and fun-drunken Georgianas. As for the choice of scripts, Amanda Foreman has discussed how she was presented a variety of scripts based on her biography and how she hated them all, but liked this one. I feel like, the writers, Jeffry Hatcher (Casanova) and Anders Thomas Jensen (many German movies) chose a small portion of Georgiana’s amazing life that portrayed her as Marie Antoinette or any other aristocratic woman from the period (married young-bad marriage-no kids-angry mother-rise to fabulous-affair-downfall), with no unique aspects to make her stand out. But that is what drew us to Georgiana initially! As Jezebel, likes to point out, many Oscar-worthy films, or films in general, seem to portray female leads in three categories: Hookers, Victims, and Doormats. Gee is definitely a victim; there is no victory for her. And yes, this chapter of Georgiana’s life did leave her the victim, but she is a phoenix and there was a rebirth. But in every minute of this film Gee is portrayed as this isolated prisoner. What about her true-life victories? She was a female-pioneer in politics, a loved celebrity, a fashion guru, and a wife who did eventually overcome past marital problems and teach her husband to love her. Indeed, the Duke was inconsolable when she passed away.
Ralph Fiennes STOLE THE SHOW. Seriously, how amazing was he? He was spot on in his portrayal of a very difficult character to interpret. Due to the lack of personal letters from the very introverted Duke, it is hard to give voice to this character. But Fiennes took what little he had and turned out a great performance. Hayley Atwell did well in her portrayal of Bess but it was not the Bess described by Foreman. Atwell was a strong seductress, whereas Bess played the part of a meek woman in order to manipulate.
I will never call Miss Knightly a bad actress, because she is not. But I knew that the part of Georgiana would be too complex for a 23 year old, and I still stand by this. I saw a lot of Elizabeth Swan and Bennett, etc in her Gee. One of the aspects of Georgiana's personality that Foreman emphasized was her naivety through most of her life, and her many attempts to please the Duke. I felt that this lasted for about five minutes in the movie. Also, she played an unconvincing mother, Georgiana was very devoted and in love with her children. Knightly’s hugs and coos seemed superficial. However, she put on a convincing performance in the scene where she had to give up Eliza Courntey.
Cooper's Grey was forgettable, but what he excelled at was chemistry with Knightly. The duo did extremely well in their convincing portrayals of affection. Plus the love scenes were pretty hot.
I will end this review on a high note. FASHION! The costumes surpassed my expectations. Well done Michael O’Conner! I was pleased to see many that I hadn’t seen in stills. As Lauren has pointed out already, there seemed to be strength in the jewellery as well, especially the earrings. The hair was particularly well done, although I missed the lack of powder. I loved every coiffure, and yearned to see them from every angle because the backs of the doos were particularly well done in curls. Like a nice, neat bow on a fabulous present.
I intended to write on the accuracy of the movie to Georgiana’s life, but I will leave that for the next post since I, obviously, have a lot to say and you may need a breather after that rant. Stay tuned!
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