The Duchess (2008) Poster

(2008)

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7/10
Compelling and Layered Costume Drama
milofromtheblock5 September 2008
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.
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8/10
Good story. Interesting and mostly believable in presentation.
joestank151 January 2009
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+
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8/10
An entertaining film which promises much for the future
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.
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9/10
ignore the critics, the duchess is spellbinding
ekartawick14 September 2008
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.
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8/10
Saul Dibb presents "The Duchess" as an incredibly emotional woman, somebody who has a lust for life…
Nazi_Fighter_David7 March 2009
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 commented on…

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…
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9/10
A good story beautifully filmed and with fine performances - especially from Keira Knightly.
geoffgee11 September 2008
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.
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7/10
More fun in corsets
Rave-Reviewer8 October 2008
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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Melodramatic period piece
Harry T. Yung5 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Melodrama" and "period piece" say just about everything when it comes to "the Duchess". Several opening establishing sequences quickly set the scene – young, playful Georgiana (Keira Knightley) rejoicing at her mother Lady Spencer's (Charlotte Rampling) announcing her good fortune of soon to become the Duchess of Devonshire. The opportunity is not lost to also introduce in these early scenes her future lover Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Her dream of a love-marriage (she has, after all, already met the Duke twice), however, is soon shattered as the Duke of Devonshire claims her virginity on their wedding night as if he is undertaking a military exercise. It soon becomes evident that to him, her only reason of existence is to produce a male heir. This all sound very familiar and "The other Boleyn girl" comes immediately to mind, a movie that, by comparison, offers more zest and vigour.

With the all-too-familiar plot line of a failed marriage (mentioned all too often by the protagonists) and the single-agenda of whether she can ultimately produce a boy, the story quickly loses momentum. To rescue comes an interesting character Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), a sympathy-earning women prevented from seeing her three sons by her brutal husband. Befriended by Georgiana and taken into their household, she goes on to become the Duke's mistress. Georgiana, in her made-belief poetic justice, starts an affair with Grey. There are other details but essentially this is the story that provides the base for not a few emotional outbursts and melodramatic conflicts.

Acting obviously carried a lot in such a movie and here, comparison with another recent period piece is interesting and illuminating: "Brideshead revisited". The more straight comparison is Charlotte Rampling with Emma Thompson. Those who have seen Thompson in "Brideshead" will remember her impeccable, powerful portrayal of Lady Marchmain. Rampling in "Duchess" is stereotyped that does not full deserve her talents.

A much more interesting situation is Hayley Atwell who appears in both movies and is arguably the best among the three leads in "Brideshead", playing Julia Flyte. Very interestingly, there are two lines of comparison. First, as respective female leads, Atwell in "Brideshead" plays a complex role with depth and reserve that Knightley hadn't been able to command in "Duchess". The other comparison, of the both of them in "Duchess", is even more fascinating. Even when Bess Foster is a supporting role, it is a more complex character and offers some of the few non-cliché elements in the movie – her prime motivation for betraying her best friend is her absolutely unwavering determination to see her kids (something only the powerful Duke can help her with). Atwell handles the job beautifully, outshining Knightley. This is not to say that Knightley is not good; but Atwell is definitely better.

Ralph Fiennes is delightful (if not elating) to watch as he manages to create a character that is even more fiendish than Voldemort! Dominic Cooper, whom you might have seen recently as the young boyfriend in "Mama Mia!", gives a credible if not spectacular performance as Grey.

As a period piece, this movie fulfills the audiences' expectation of plush mise-en-scene, lush landscape and pulse-stopping costumes. Those interested in camera work will notice the repeated use of contrasting out-focused surroundings with the sharply focused object (such as when Lady Spencer points out her daughter to the Duke at the opening scenes). One interesting thing I must mention is how the names of the Duchess's three little girls pop up in front of them in a carriage scene. I can't help but wonder aloud if this is taking a cue from Facebook's photo tagging – signs of our time!
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10/10
Fantastically gripping, non-period, period film...
Gregg Araki26 July 2008
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!
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8/10
A great period piece, Kiera pulls in a fantastic performance
Kristine12 November 2008
I couldn't wait for The Duchess, I am just a huge fan of period pieces and Kiera Knightly is becoming a fantastic actress in this genre. I was looking forward to this film mainly because I studied Georgina a little bit in college for my history class and I always thought she was such an elegant and strong woman that stood out from the others. She was like the Madonna of her day, she had a great sense of style, self, and strength. While the movie is not completely accurate, it still was a fine movie to watch. Kiera truly held her own as Georgina and was absolutely stunning. One of the underlining stories that I appreciate in this film is the battle of the sexes. Ralph Fiennes who plays the Duke of Devonshire does a fantastic job as well and he plays this anti-villain, shows the true side of the pain and pressure men felt but how they looked at women as nothing but property. This story truly touches you and makes you grateful for our present day.

Georgina is born into a high class family of royalty who is about to be married off to the Duke of Devonshire and everything seems great, G is going to live the high life of class, culture, and being a lady of the people. She comes across the price though: her husband's affairs that are practically rubbed in her face, her life is constantly watched and judged by people, she must be perfect at all times to keep up her reputation as a joyful lady, she is forced to be the mother of the duke's child from an affair he had, as well as she cannot birth a son for the Duke and he will find every opportunity to rub it in her face. All this and Georgina has found another love who she cannot give her heart to fully for the love of her children and people.

The Duchess is a fine film that I truly enjoyed. I wouldn't be surprised if Kiera was nominated for best actress during the academy season. I would highly recommend this movie, especially for the period piece lovers. Like I said, this film makes you appreciate what we have today in our modern society and truly makes you feel for the pressures both men and women had to face in that day. Georgina is a figure that I think is very looked over in history when she is one of the strongest presences in England's history. The Duchess, even though not entirely accurate, does a very good job of telling her story and was a pleasure to watch.

8/10
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