Saturday, October 11, 2008

Movie Review: The Duchess (Part 2)

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 conversations of gossip unless you don’t mind spoilers!

If you have rejoined me here after my long review of The Duchess, I am impressed! I am glad you haven’t been scared off just yet. This part of my review is separate because it is a review based on The Duchess’ adaption to Amanda Foreman’s book, or the movie’s accuracy to the portrayal of Georgiana Cavendish. And for that I will give it:

The Film as a BioPic
Rating: 1 Star

Yup, it was not that accurate at all. In fact, while I was watching it I think I was able to enjoy it because I couldn’t connect Gee with Georgiana, the 5th Duchess of Devonshire. They are two different people. I won’t go through every minute little inaccuracy in this post, I will just touch about the main ones that really bother me. Now that leaves me with the dilemma of where to begin this review. I suppose I should begin at the beginning.

The movie opens with 16 year old Georgiana playing at Althorpe with her friends. One of these friends includes age-mate Charles Grey. If Grey had known Georgiana at this point in her life he would have been about 9 years old. She did not meet him until he became involved in politics in his 20’s. I didn’t see the point in them writing him into her early life.

This brings me to my next big qualm. The time frame was all over the place in this film! First of all, it appeared that Georgiana got pregnant right away, no problemo. Part of her struggle in bearing an heir was the fact that it took her about 9 years in order to have a child. The film then has a “6 years later” caption and shows Gee introducing her huge hair tower and feathers. No, no, NO! Fashion faux-pas to the max! She did that at the beginning of her marriage and by 1789 (when the movie shows her introducing the fads) that was extremely out of fashion. In fact, regency fashion was blooming at that point. Did anyone else notice how the children never really aged either? Wasn’t it strange?

Yes, the family dynamics were all off. Lady Spencer went past assertive, caring, mother to just plain mean. In reality she was very protective of Georgiana and was known to occasionally boss the Duke around too. She was one of the people to go to France with Georgiana when she gave birth to Eliza Courtney.
I was very much bothered by the lack of Harriet. Harriet was such an important part of Georgiana’s life and always portrayed next to her in prints. She was also an amazing woman who was overshadowed by her celebrity sister. Did they exclude her in order to emphasize the isolation of Gee?

This brings me to a huge flaw in the film. The writers were so obsessed with creating this victimized heroine who lives in a prison of isolation that they created a major contradiction. I was commenting to Lauren in our post-viewing meeting about how I was alarmed that Gee was alone most of the time. There are letters from the time discussing Georgiana’s day hour by hour (she was a celebrity remember, and people were obsessed with her) and she was rarely alone. In fact, she usually was surrounded by a group of women (the ton) who were noticeably absent. I think they could have been more convincing of her celebrity and fashion-icon status, and instead they were just mentioned. For example, at one point Bess says “Everyone is staring at you,” and the women in the background didn’t actually appear to be looking at Gee. Georgiana was bombarded by crowds while walking in the park. Lauren and I were remarking that just mentioning her friendship with Marie Antoinette was an obvious and easy way of showing her celebrity and status to the audience. Then Lauren brought up how it is probably confusing to the audience when Gee’s celebrity is mentioned, but it is not actually proven. Basically you are supposed to believe it because you are told, but given no examples.

Two huge aspects that are very prominent, and therefore important, in Georgiana’s life are her role in politics and her addiction to gambling and battle with debts. She was shown giving speeches on the platform and gambling (with a sourpuss on her face) but that is about it. I thought it must have been confusing to viewers that she was promoting Grey with Charles Fox (where were his eyebrows??) paraphernalia: fox tails and FOX clearly written on a ribbon on her hat.

That brings me to my last major gripe, our favourite tart, Bess. I wish they portrayed her as more of a sweet little manipulator. I DID NOT like how they implied that her husband beat her. Give me a break…OH that was one of the cheesy lines that bothered me, “it is legal for a man to beat his wife as long as the stick is smaller than their thumb,” yes thank you Bess, we learned that in Boondock Saints. But seriously, that line was out of place, and it was unnecessary for Bess to be a battered wife. But what bothered me was Gee screaming at William that she wanted Bess out. The importance of portraying Bess as a manipulator was that when Georgiana discovered the affair, she was so dependant on Bess that she swallowed her pain rather than loose her beloved Bess. Maybe that is hard to conceive for our modern audience, but it is what made the situation so unique.

There were a few things I did appreciate the film including. One was the sudo-lesbianic scene between Bess and Gee. Although this may have been for titillation or making sure male companions are still paying attention, it alluded to her bisexuality. I also did like how they showed the scum-baggery of Grey getting engaged fast after the affair. So the writers did pick up on some details but for the most part, just used Georgiana as a gateway to tell a love story.


  1. wow i enjoyed reading your reviews!!

    i agree on so many points for example; there were no mentioning of harriet or their brother george, and lady spencer was very cold towards georgiana on most of their scenes.
    i loved how ralph fiennes portrayed the duke.
    i liked the costumes and hair dressings (lack of powder, but very nice!) too, though i still think marie antonette wins by far! on both asspects

    the kids never aged! how weird is that?!

    they cut a lot of scenes. there were a few gowns that werent on the movie, and im looking forward on seeing them

  2. Oh good, I'm glad you enjoyed them! Yes I noticed there was some missing scenes too. After all, 1.5 hours seemed very short, especially for this genre of film. But, like you, I look forward to seeing them when the DVD comes out. I'm especially curious about the giant picnic at Chatsworth which I've seen pictures of.

  3. I have a weakness for spoilers of any shape or form, so I had to read your reviews despite planning to see the movie next week. However, I do feel a qualm that by seeing this movie, I'm supporting Hollywood's version of women's stories, and that they will continue to churn out historical biopics that don't express the full range of a historical woman's life--merely subverting it beneath the array of sumptuous gowns and dizzying scenes of glamour. :/

  4. I recall reading that Georgiana and Grey briefly met when he was still a school boy...but still, the similarity in age was actually a change that I thought made sense for film. Keira's only 23; were they going to draft a 17-year-old to emphasize the "younger" love interest? And I did like the opening was very playful and Grey seemed very mischievous instead of brooding, which is how I imagined him( though I suppose he was a bit of a brooder in real life!)

    If the script writers had included some focus on Georgiana's politics and literary/scientific pursuits, I think the movie would have ended on a happier note. But you're right---just as we were always told about Georgiana's celebrity, we were informed rather than shown the other interests in her life.

  5. I haven't seen this movie, but I'm really looking forward to it. I don't mind reading the reviews before seeing it :) I'm definately looking forward to the costumes, although some of the changes in ages/timeframes bother me. Sometimes I just can't figure out why writers make the changes that they if their history could be better than the real thing, which is rare...

  6. It's been a while since I read Forman's biography, and I haven't yet seen the movie, but what do you think about this post about the subtext between Georgiana and Bess?

  7. Ooo good find! I think the author is right in that the film made Bess appear more interested in Gee and was only using William to get to her children. In fact, she always avoided the question of whether she loved him or not. I believe the real Bess was using them both for security and did kind of love them both. But I stand by Foreman's statement that Bess' love for Georgiana was much like the love of a crazed fan for a celeb; she wanted to be Georgiana.

    But I can see where the author is going, maybe the film did sort of imply that Bess was a lesbian, or at least hurt too much by males to really be interested in them. It brings up a very good point that shouldn't be disregarded!

  8. Thanks for the info! I liked the movie a lot, but I didn't think it had that much to do with the actual Georgiana. I am curious to read the Amanda Foreman book now.

    I believe when Georgiana is introduced in Bath as the leader of fashion, that's in 1780. I think that was the last year tall hairstyles were in fashion (though it should have properly have been somewhat wider), and I thought it was interesting they paired it with an elaborate polonaise. I loved how the movie clearly showed the procession of fashion from the mid 1770s to the late 1780s, and there's a nice variety of clothes, unlike certain other costume dramas I've seen lately.

  9. What a lovely blog and I loved this movie!

  10. Thank you girls!

    I found myself pleasantly surprised with the array of costumes and how fabulous they looked. Luckily that helped deter me from being irked too much by the time frames being off!

  11. Okay, I'm reeally late, but I finally saw TD and all I can say is: lame! It wasn't as lackluster as Coppola's Marie Antoinette, but there was no emotional depth. The only time anything rang true was the scene where G gave up Eliza. Keira was spot on, and the score was excellent--I nearly cried myself in that scene.

    Ralph Fiennes was STUPENDOUS as the Duke, but even then, the character was not fleshed out, and based on the "victimization" of Georgiana in this film, I felt angry with her and sympathetic with the duke in the scene where he tries to reach out to her after making her give her daughter away because that could have been a definite turning point in their relationship that would have made them grow up and move on, wiser and more mature.

    I enjoyed the film for the first half, but then began to feel dissatisfied because there was no point to this story. Just as with MA, the writer/director chose to film a pretty generic period piece featuring a female lead and her domestic entanglements. I was more entertained by Gwendolen of Daniel Deronda (now there's a complex anti-heroine!)--which was a work of fiction. Georgiana had a complex, colorful life that was more than her domestic entanglements, and this movie did not do her justice, nor did it do history and the role of women in history justice at all. A solid C effort. :/

  12. I agree with just about everything you said! And of course it's not too late; better late then never. Thanks for sharing!

  13. My girls and I just saw the movie on a school snow day. We have a question...Georgiana was smart. In your opinion why didn't she just lie about who fathered Eliza? This is not accepted today, but royalty seemed to all share a thread of immorality long ago anyway. Georgiana could have planned a visit to the duke to cover her bases....I suppose she really wanted to hurt her husband and longed for that "deal" however. What is your opinion? Also, I think the purpose of Bess talking about her husband beating her was to make the audience sympathetic and more accepting of her intrusion into Georgiana's life. A good movie even though a bit choppy.

  14. Well, this worked for a lot of women especially Georgiana's friend Lady Melbourne who probably only had one legit child. In fact, unless divorced every child of a married woman's was considered to be her husband's. It was the Georgian solution in the pre-dna test and Maury days.
    At the time though, Georgiana was on her own in Bath sans husband. She must have been staying long enough where she knew that she couldn't trick him into thinking it was his.

    I also think that since she was very much in love, the idea of sleeping with her husband at this time probably disgusted her. You know how puppy love is! So those are my two theories on the situation. Poor Georgiana, it couldn't just work out for her as it did with other aristocratic ladies!

  15. I really like your review. I saw the fim yesterday and I thought it was amazing but, of course, very much addaptated to the famous romantic-drama that provides so much millions in THE industry.

    I'm really looking fowards to reading a good biography about Georgiana. Any tips?

    Thank you!

  16. Hi Elenia!

    I would definitely read Amanda Foreman's biography which the movie is based off of. You'll just love it, I'm sure! Because the book was so good, the movie had a lot to live up to!

  17. I just stumbled upon this review through Google and I'm intrigued by Anonymous's question about passing off Gray's baby as the Duke's. To me, Gee's behaviour throughout the movie suggested her romanticism and idealism: she simply would not or could not play the game the way it was supposed to be played - she couldn't be discreet about her affair, she couldn't pass off the child as her husband's. It was almost frustrating to watch her propose her "deal" - she was honest to a fault, lacking Bess's cynicism. I thought Bess came across as much more practical and cynical - she knew, if Gee didn't, that the affair had to be concealed, that there is a way to play the game. Perhaps that's why the Duke was more able to connect with her - everything he did had a purpose and there was a similar practicality to Bess.

  18. Yes, I agree in the movie that is a very accurate, analysis to how they are portrayed!