Saturday, October 11, 2008

Movie Review: The Duchess (Part 1)

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!

What the Ton Says:

Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide
Scandalous Women


  1. Well put (part 1) and I agree I saw some lizzy (at the dinner table) and some Elizabeth Swan (maybe at the dinner table too!) but now I want to read Part 2!! I want to hear what you have to dish about the film- based on your and amanda's research!!!

  2. Perfect timing---the film finally came to my town and I just got back from seeing it tonight!

    While there were a few things that got under my skin, I thought The Duchess was exceptional film and enjoyed it tremendously! The costumes had me salivating and Ralph Fiennes was PERFECT! I had read reviews saying he outshone everyone and...well...I daresay they were correct. He was the only one who was exactly as I had imagined him, which isn't to say that the other actors didn't give good performances. I also agree with you on the score...Rachel Portman really outdid herself.

    I side with Lady Spencer on the issue of Bess, but Lady Foster was quite likeable in the film.

    A few things I would have changed:

    1) I was hoping this movie would be a bit more like the excellent Amazing Grace and really get into the politics of the period...alas, instead it was a mere backdrop to Georgiana's romantic turmoils! I hope there are deleted scenes that go more in depth...

    2) I normally NEVER take issue with this, but Keira was just a tad bit too skinny in this film. She looked a little haggard and not like the voluptuous bombshell Georgiana was. Even just 5 extra pounds would have made big difference. Aside from that, I thought she did a lovely job. I think a lot of the reason she didn't reflect Foreman's Georgiana had more to do with the script than her acting.

    3) There needed to be more gaiety! More gambling and fun times....I thought the director did a good job of incorporating some of this in the beginning, but it started to disappear in the middle and was downright gone by the finale. I wish they had extended the film's timeline so it hadn't ended on such a dreary note; it would have been better to close with Georgiana really blooming in society again.

    4) Where was Harriet??? So many integral characters were left out in favor of melancholy shots of Keira brooding. Again, I can understand the time constraints...still, too bad.

    5) I needed a good dance scene with Charles Grey. He did very well with the script that was given him. His part should have been written differently, though I'm not sure how. He and Keira had good chemistry, but not enough scenes together.

    Anyway, in spite of that, I really loved the movie & I'm looking forward to part 2 of your review!

  3. Kira, I agree with just about everything you said, with an emphasis on 3! Yes, I think a dance scene would have been a good idea!

  4. What a feast for the eyes with the costumes, hats and hairdos. Fiennes was surely a cold bastard -- and this was probably the plight of many women, trying to deal with powerful men like him.

    I am curious about the real story of the Dutchess so I am looking for all I can find. I'll be sure to read your part 2, comparing the book. We should probably all just read the book, eh?

    I'm sure Keira did the best she possibly could with the part as written. I must say I was deeply moved by the sadness portrayed. I had a hard time collecting my wits after the film ended sort of abruptly.

    I have been in a couple of bad marriages (yeah, I've given up at this point) and had to sacrifice for my daughter -- so I could relate to the quiet desperation in her eyes when her happiness was thwarted. I think that can be hard to portray, and she did a good job. The scene when the Duke tries to reach out to her by covering her hand with his is powerful. It took everything she had to put her hand over his. Did you feel it?

    They didn't show enough of the children, but her devotion was communicated through her choices. Too bad the film couldn't be longer, right?

  5. Yes I agree, Geri. The movie was just not long enough to fit everything in! I would highly recommend the book, that won't fly by as fast! But you might be surprised how fast you fly through it :)

  6. I was unmoved by the film but adored the costumes. Yes! the earings in particular, Heather. The jewellery was unusually well done. Keira was enchanting but too young on the whole, although I've seen portraits of Georgianna and they do have similarities. Ralph F ceryainly stole the show. He's currently on in In bruges and plays an entirely different part. Think of how jeremy irons always plays himself "the handsomest man in England" and think of how Fiennes actually acts. Now HE was moving.

  7. I agree, I can't get enough Fiennes. I saw him In Bruges and thought he was amazing in that as well, it's very important to be a versatile actor!

  8. I was unmoved by the film but adored the costumes. Yes! the earings in particular, Heather. The jewellery was unusually well done. Keira was enchanting but too young on the whole, although I've seen portraits of Georgianna and they do have similarities. Ralph F ceryainly stole the show. He's currently on in In bruges and plays an entirely different part. Think of how jeremy irons always plays himself "the handsomest man in England" and think of how Fiennes actually acts. Now HE was moving.

  9. I have to see all of In Bruges, the clips I saw of Fiennes were fantastic! He reminded me of a Guy Richie character in that movie, which of course, I love too. The jewelery really stood out, and when I was Christmas shopping the other day I noticed some necklaces that were influenced by the film. If they're weren't cheaply made I would have bought them right there!

  10. I must say i totally agree with your review. Keira is great actress but i must when i saw her portraying Georgiana as a mother it felt sort of awkward. But in the part where when had to give Eliza courtney it made me cry my heart out. Fiennes acting is superb he perfectly portrayed the duke I read in the book. Dominic Cooper made Charles Grey a very agreeable man. Hayley Atwell was great too but as you said she's more of a seductress in this. The ending, i feel as if is wrong in this movie. But all in all I think this is the kind of movie where you could say it was great but i feel as if somethings are missing.

  11. As time goes on I feel more and more like that!