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The Duchess is a superior slice of costume drama which manages to craft
interesting, multi dimensional characters and an involving storyline
from the well worn confines of the genre.
Keira Knightley plays a very similar role to the one she played in Pride and Prejudice, a feisty, modern woman trapped in a male dominated society. However, whereas Lizzie Bennett's heart and character inspires affection, the Duchess of Devonshire's fosters only reproach and punishment from her traditional and patriarchal husband. Her performance is a standout and demonstrates why she is so highly rated in the face of many disappointing roles in other films. She brings both strength and weakness to the character. Able to deliver withering put downs at her husband and others, whilst showing the pain of her loveless marriage etched into her face.
If Knightley is the lynchpin of the piece then it is Ralph Fiennes that elevates it above a crowded genre. Resisting the temptation to play his character as evil, instead he simply plays him as a man of his times. In Fiennes' hands the Duke feels no need to win any bouts of verbal jousting with his wife as he is secure in the knowledge that, as a husband, he is in complete control of the relationship. The Duke also clearly sees very little wrong in his treatment of his wife and acts, as he sees it, in a logic manner making the whole film feel more believable and, as a result, tragic.
In terms of the cast the only misstep is Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey, who lends the wide eyes of a political dreamer but doesn't have convincing chemistry with Knightley and plays one of the more one dimensional characters in the piece. However Hayley Atwell impresses by playing her character so well it is possible to describe her as scheming, and manipulative as well as sympathetic and loyal without it seeming a contradiction.
The film is deliberately paced so as to give characters and events time to breathe, encouraging the mood that the marriage is a car crash in slow motion, inextricably drawing all the characters further into the muddled mess of their relationships. Overall it's a fully recommended slice of real life costume drama that draws a multi layered drama full of compellingly deep characters from what could easily have been a one note story.
The career of Keira Knightley has been somewhat of a mixed bag. She has
had strong moments, invariably under the direction of Joe Wright, and
she has had her less brilliant moments, mainly in the later "Pirates of
the Caribbean" films. But, in "The Duchess", an entertaining and moving
portrait of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, she truly shows signs
that she is coming of age with a performance of subtlety and nuance.
The film has been marketed with not so subtle emphases on Georgiana's relative, Diana, Princess of Wales. The tagline for the film, "There were three people in her marriage", is not only, by my count, a miscalculation (a serious miscalculation if you count the dogs) but also guilty of creating a subtext which simply isn't in the film. Anybody looking for a film about Diana will be disappointed. Anyone looking for an entertaining film won't be.
The film is a moving portrait of a very tragic figure, brought to life by a career best performance from Keira Knightely. Her abilities have grown over recent years, with "Atonement" being her previous best, but here she shows great potential. She is ably supported by Ralph Fiennes, who is on fine form. His performance never descends into caricature or cartoonish villainy, but maintains a sense of humanity, no matter how selfish it is, underneath his characters various inexcusable actions. There is also a fine performance from Charlotte Rampling, though there is a weak link in the person of Dominic Cooper, who is too young for his part and struggles with it.
The witty and emotive script has a lot to recommend it and its characters are put into an engrossing and lavish world, successfully created by the director Saul Dibb. Extraordinary costumes fill the extraordinary locations, and there is a beautiful score by Rachael Portman to accompany it. The result is a fairly stylish affair.
The film's exploration of unfortunate innocence and the loss of freedom is at times poignant and adds to what is an extremely satisfying experience at the cinema and provides a great deal of promise for the future from its director and its star.
After reading copious amounts of mediocre reviews for "The duchess", I
wasn't expecting much from this film. However, from the first scene I
was utterly absorbed.
The film isn't "just another period drama", it is an absolutely beautiful and heart-rendering tale of the tribulations faced by Georgian woman. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who although is the key character in the film (as you can probably infer from the title), represents the situation of all woman belonging to a patriarchal society, not just the aristocracy.
Keira knightly is exemplary in this role. Her facial expression tells more than a script ever could. I enjoyed her performance in "atonement" but this was in a whole new league. Ralph Fiennes was also excellent. My best advice is to ignore the critics and come to your own conclusion. My only negative criticism was the rapidity with which Georgiana bonded so intimately with Bess. However, I don't know enough about the social context of the time to really make a judgement.
All in all, a deeply moving tale that shouldn't be neglected.
I came away from the cinema after seeing The Duchess feeling I had had my consciousness of what life must have been like for the aristocracy of 18th century England dramatically raised (both literally and metaphorically). The story of Georgiana's marriage unfolds by subtle degrees amidst the most sumptuous of interiors and landscaped gardens - all beautifully filmed and realistically recreated. Apart from the main characters, there appear a rich selection of characters from neighbouring strata of society - aristocrats, political activists, servants and children (as babies and older) both legitimate and illegitimate - all of whom contribute to weaving the screenplay into an immensely fascinating narrative. I was already a fan of both Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes before seeing The Duchess, so I was pleased to find that their performances were well up to - and in the case of Ms Knightly even surpassing - my expectations. Even those who aren't normally 'into' period dramas (like me) should, I feel sure, find much to appreciate in this excellent film.
This film really, really surprised me.
Yes, it's from the director of Bullet Boy - but I'd only ever seen Saul Dibb's Line Of Beauty so I was expecting a pretty standard period piece with Keira Knightely - who I have never rated much as a credible acting talent.
Boy does she impress here - she is fantastic. The Duchess of Devonshire is the perfect character for her to play, and it's obvious Keira immersed herself in the role, and completely understood every single motivation of her character.
I recommend everyone to go and see this film!
The Duchess - Set at the end of the eighteenth century, The Duchess is
based on the life of Georgiana Cavendish (Kiera Knightley), Duchess of
Devonshire. The film delves into Georgiana's passionate and doomed
affair with Earl Grey, the future Prime Minister, and the complex love
triangle with her husband (Ralph Fiennes) and Georgiana's best friend,
Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell).
Kiera Knightley again does a period piece and again looks mostly out of place. She's British alright, but a few stone away from looking like she belongs in 1770's Britain. It's augmented by the fact that her character, based on a real woman, was supposed to have gone through about 6 pregnancies, 4 of them successful. Knightley's emaciated form is just wrong. What is right though, is her performance. As a mother, as a chasismatic political presence and a woman desperate for a happy life she nails it absolutely.
I could have seen a little less focus on the love triangle and a little more on the "hows" and "whys" of this woman becoming such an important and popular cultural icon in British society. The film glosses over how this came to be, and asks us to take it as a fact after one brief scene showing the Duchess's political shrewdness. It's another case of Hollywood ignoring what's different about a film, preferring the safety of delivering what people have seen before.
Fiennes gives such a quiet performance right from the start but it grows and fills the area. It's often a mesmerizing performance because of his rigid adherence to societies expectations and rules at the cost of all else. Fiennes occupies the screen whenever he's in a scene. When he and the Duchess argue, she's like water smashing up against the unyielding cliff. Ralph Fiennes is aw-inspiringly scary in one scene without seeming in anyway over the top or demonizing of what his character represents. Ultimately his character is human and believable; purely a man of his times. His character is so down to earth and in the end simple. All he wanted from his marriage was a son and to be left alone to play with his dogs.
A mesmerizing turn from Fiennes in a likable, if familiar film, The Duchess gets a B+
What rather wonderful about this story is that Georgiana Spencer (Keira
Knightley) discovers a way to exult in victory over things and to get
back some kind of power in a time where, really, women had very little
Being someone of great vitality and liveliness, she was very much a
dreamer and an idealist, a woman who loved being the center of
attention, who loved the fact at some point that her picture was in the
paper, that the clothes were always talked of, that her every move was
We are immediately impressed by her presence, by her personality She wasn't behaving quite in accordance with the way in which other 18th century women were expected to behave
But there was something incredibly sad about this self-conscious lady She was a victim of herself A victim of her own innocence A victim of people using her for their own profit Even though she seemed to have everything, we realize that it was not that simple And with all of her privilege came a lot of moral obligation and things were never what they really appeared to be
The Duke (Ralph Fiennes) was a misanthropic man, rather cold, unemotional and quite cruel He seems to like better his hunting dogs to his young wife Of course with certain values, that he believes were absolutely right and that he strictly held to
This sumptuous period piece also presents the Duchess of Devonshire as a political hostess Saul Dibb's film shows us her dinner parties, her evening events, her fame and its extraordinary effect on her It made her both desperate to please, terrified of doing anything wrong and shocked at her own celebrity and unable to figure out in her own mind why she was quite so famous And we see the crippling effect it has on her sense of self
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Keira Knightley's period drama for the year 2008 is a well-crafted one,
but lacking in anything new and exciting. The Dutchess is your
run-of-the-mill tale of unrequited love amidst the artifice of a
marriage of utility. It all begins with a gathering of teenagers,
playing their games in the yard while the adults talk inside, planning
the futures for their children behind closed doors. When Georgiana's
mother tells her how she will be the next Duchess of Devonshire, you
are almost shocked at her reaction. So happy and excited that a man
could love her after only two meetings, she cannot wait to leave and
start her new life
seemingly forgetting all about that boy in the
yard for whom she obviously has feelings for. This is a time of
regimented rules, of lives orchestrated for success and not allowed to
spontaneously evolve. A decision that I don't think she could have said
no to anyways just set up her entire life's journey, one full of
happiness, wealth, and eventual heartbreak.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into the film. I had heard the stuff about how Georgiana was the Empress of Fashion and thought maybe this would tell about her designing sense while also her life. Maybe it was going to be a romance or a tale of deception and intrigue, a behind the scenes look at royalty. Instead of any of those, The Duchess ends up really being just a bio-pic disguised as an historical drama. At times it seems like some interest is about to show face as we learn early on about Her Grace's penchant for politics and desire for all people to be free. It actually seems like we're about to watch her fight for women's rights and equality, but instead the topic is glossed over and she becomes the face of the Whig Party, not a vocal piece to the puzzle. Even the fashion aspect is thrown to the side. The Duke mentions it once and she is introduced at some sort of fashion show later on, but after a funny speech, it is back to the pomp and circumstance of the royal way of life.
Whether the film succeeds or not doesn't detract from the fact that the attention to detail is quite nice. Director Saul Dibb has gotten a crew to recreate the time period, actors to inhabit their roles, and an all-around authentic look. I love the moments looking through the windows towards the outside. The glass is fogged and warped as it was back then and the compositions frame the characters of importance with the clear portions, while the others are distorted in the imperfections. Pacing-wise, the film never really drags. It is all composed nicely, spanning the 6-8 years from marriage to the bearing of an heir. The film itself is not boring; it is the story that becomes mediocre and obvious while the cast still intrigues throughout it. Once the relationships and affairs all become public knowledge to the audience, it is just a matter of what will happen next? Unfortunately, that is a question that didn't interest me as much as what could have been looking at different aspects of Georgiana's life, rather than just the marriage itself.
Knightley must be given credit for pulling off another turn in a corset, long dress, and numerous wigs. Almost appearing to be a glutton for punishment, she just seems to flock to this type of role. But with good reason, she is solid throughout, showing her youthful exuberance as well as her stubborn disgust at the injustices put upon a woman in that time period. Much smarter than one would expect from a girl sent off to become a Duchess for the sole purpose of conceiving a male heir, Georgiana is a fascinating woman.
Her husband is played by the great Ralph Fiennes in a role that I am not used to seeing him in. The Duke of Devonshire is very much an automaton going through life fulfilling his duties. Unless with his beloved dogs, Fiennes gives off a cold dead persona, breathing as little life into the part as possibleand that is a compliment, not an insult. He is the kind of guy that just walks away from the group when he is done or bored, he doesn't have to explain himself. Fiennes makes this man sympathetic somehow, showing the audience that beneath the harshness lays a man trapped into a life he cannot leave. He looks out the window at his children and wonders at how free they are. Here is a man in charge of everyone, but alone living for the title. He has an image to uphold and unfortunately that means he must be strict and decisive when it comes to events that could tarnish his reputation and image, events that the Duchess throws his way often.
Don't get me wrong, some of the love triangles are interesting to see fleshed out with the wonderful supporting cast, it's just that I wish there was more weight to the story with those moments only complementing. Dominic Cooper's Charles Grey, the boy from Georgiana's childhood, adds a layer with the inevitable affair, and the character of Bess Foster, played by Hayley Atwell, is perhaps the most interesting of them all. At first the Duchess' best friend, she becomes her husband's mistress and lover as well, creating a dynamic unused to in films like this. The three live together, all for their own needs. One for his title and heir, one for the power to have her children returned to her, and the other, trapped in her life now, to have some semblance of meaning. It's definitely the most off-the-wall aspect of the story, but unfortunately not enough to make The Duchess any more special than the next period drama to come, or the last before it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The costumes are wonderful, the country houses are spectacular, but the
story is rather a one note affair. This is indeed a shame, as the book
on which the film is based, is a rich and interesting biography.
The supporting cast are very good, but there is little for them to do, as all the action is centered on Keira Knightly. She does not shine here. Having recently watched her in Atonement (where she was very good)I was disappointed by her performance in this film. I felt as if I knew what she is going to do where - a real shame, as I believe that she will be one of our most interesting actors, but not if judged on this outing.
Where are the examples of Georgiana's wit, her clever mind? And why are historical characters so often played with modern sensibilities - Georgiana would have known just what the Duke expected of her, as she was his property - the law in those days, not my opinion - so to suggest otherwise is just nonsense. She really was much more fascinating than depicted in the film.
The latest slice of period drama to grace our screens is this biopic on Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who during the 1770s was patroness of the Whig party and prisoner of a marriage which made her, among other things, suffer the indignity of having her husband's mistress living under the same roof. These heritage dramas are an industry all by themselves; the armies of prop hirers, wig and costume makers, researchers, production designers, location scouts and (mostly) British actors who go to make them must find themselves in almost permanent employ. The BBC does them, the Americans have a go at them, and the public can't seem to get enough of them. The Duchess is a superior example of the genre, though nowhere in the league of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and combines the spectacle of Keira Knightley looking glamorous in a range of frocks and wigs, while at the same time honing her acting talents (no more those rictus grins), with the guilty pleasure of following the uncomfortable parallels between the fortunes and indiscretions of the ancestress of Lady Diana Spencer with those of the Princess of Wales herself. Lowering over the whole proceedings is the truly superb presence of Ralph Fiennes's Duke of Devonshire, Fiennes an actor who can convey polite discomfiture or threatening ire with slightest twitch of the mouth. In his hands the Duke becomes far less a melodramatic villain than a product of his time, and you almost feel sorry for him. Go and see The Duchess; only those who have had children will balk at the liberties taken with childbirth and breastfeeding. But not even that will spoil the fun.
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