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The Duchess

A 2008 film based on the life of an 18th-century English aristocrat starring Keira Knightley

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A tragic tale of a loveless marriage

  • Dec 4, 2008
  • by
Rating:
+4
A sad testament to the rigors of 18th century English society and women's roles, The Duchess tells the story of Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightly) and her marriage to the older Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). The product of a society that relegates women to window dressing and child-bearing, at sixteen Georgiana is filled with romantic notions and little information about the demands of marriage. Frolicking with her companions on the lawn of her family's estate- including future prime minister and lover Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) - Georgiana is thrilled to learn of a marriage proposal by the impressive Duke of Devonshire. All the duke requires is a male heir and his bride-to-be is certainly capable of fulfilling her husband's demands. On the pointed advice of her mother (an intimidating Charlotte Rampling), Georgiana casts her self into the role of wife, quickly disabused of any frivolous romantic notions on her wedding night. Unfortunately, Georgiana bears the duke three girls, her husband increasingly chagrined and ill-tempered as his wife disappoints him with the birth of each new daughter.

Stoic and rigid when it comes to his wife, Fiennes plays the distant husband to perfection, indulging in extra-marital affairs and ignoring his wife's obvious suffering when she discovers his penchant for callous infidelity. Georgiana responds as best she can, given the restraints of society, becoming the darling of the social set, charming and witty, a trendsetter who captivates the imaginations of those who enjoy her company, male and female. One admirer is Whig party leader Charles Fox, but there are many. Georgiana is a skillful raconteur regardless of her deep disappointment with marriage. On an outing to Bath, Georgiana makes a new friend, a woman suffering the loss of her children through her powerful husband's interference. The kind-hearted Georgiana welcomes this woman into her home only to know the most grievous betrayal of all and the beginning of her deepest despair.

Georgiana's is a tragic life, a woman trapped by society's expectations. Knightly captures the essence of this woman's dilemma, her fresh beauty quickly marred by the reality of her situation. The one time Georgiana dares to break from her restrictive marriage and cold husband, seeking love in the arms of her lover, Charles Grey, she suffers immediate repercussions, brought quickly to heel by the man who controls every aspect of her life, especially her children. English society is not kind to women when they escape the boundaries set by men. As much as Georgiana is loved by the public, her behavior is scandalous. Although a somewhat repentant duke welcomes his defeated wife home, it begs belief that Georgiana's life would really change for the better, save her acceptance of the limitations of the marriage. Still, this is a thoughtful commentary on the marriage of a spirited young woman who endures a similar fate long before the memorable Diana Spencer, her relative. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
The Duchess DVD

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December 05, 2008
I actually had a book about Georgiana and didn't read it. Now I wish I had, as the character was quite sympathetic. Tough world for women back then!
 
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More The Duchess reviews
review by . January 25, 2009
The Duchess
The movie starts by claiming to be based on a true story. My history sucks so I'm not sure if it is or it isn't, but it's still an excellent film. Reviewer Terrance Allen called it a "Costume Drama", and his words are to the point and true. 'The Duchess' is a visual and audio array pleasing to the senses.     The year is 1774. Georgiana (Keira Knightly - King Arthur, Pirates Of The Caribbean) is to marry William, the Duke Of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). Lady Spencer (Charlotte …
review by . April 14, 2009
Watching "The Duchess" will most likely plant the thought that maybe Sofia Coppella should have directed this movie instead of "Marie Antoinette." It's not just that this is a better movie, but the themes of Georgiana's life seems more in line with the theme Coppella wanted to explore with Marie, but couldn't. I know I should try to reframe from comparing films to one another (and I should really make an effort not to open my reviews with them), but I bring this up now for those who simply want …
review by . April 03, 2009
DVD
The year is 1774, and 17-year old Georgiana hopes her marriage to the much older Duke of Devonshire will be a love match. Sadly, he's cold and distant and has a series of paramours, one of whom moves right into the family home with them.     Based on a true story, the movie highlights many parallels between Georgiana and her descendant, Princess Diana; Georgiana's husband cared only for an heir, was uninterested in her, and carried on an affair that lasted for 25 years. …
review by . December 19, 2008
Lady Spencer: All of London is talking.   Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire: Oh, let them talk!     Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):   1.   An arranged marriage to the older and wealthy Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) made young Georgiana (Keira Knightley) a Duchess. 2.   Unfortunately, the Duke was a man of few words, and the job description for his wife included only three tasks – bear heir; look pretty; no talking. 3.   This did …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #86
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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About this movie

Wiki

Starring Keira Knightly, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper
Directed By Saul Dibb
Written By Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen
2008

Amazon.com
Swaddled in whalebone and wigs, Keira Knightley steps into the restricted world of the Duchess of Devonshire, a royal lady popular with her subjects but stuck in an unhappy marriage. If this situation recalls Princess Diana (a descendent of the Duchess's family), so much the better for the purposes of director Saul Dibb and company; this film is eager to draw parallels with the unfortunate Lady Di, even if she is never directly mentioned. Knightley's unsuspecting girl is married off to the Duke (Ralph Fiennes), a distracted jerk who craves male sons, and obviously has never thought of women as anything other than a means to achieve an heir. When the Duchess launches her procreative career with a couple of daughters, well, the Duke begins to get nervous--and partners outside the marriage become increasingly appealing. The Duchess serves up lavish portions of Brit-movie staples: costumes (which, in Knightley's case, are nothing short of spectacular), landscapes,! and gorgeous music (by Rachel Portman). If it falls short in some vague way, perhaps it's because the film is a mostly one-note affair, meaning exactly what it seems to mean at every moment. Charlotte Rampling appears too briefly as Knightley's mother, and Dominic Cooper and Hayley Atwell (from Brideshead Revisited), rising stars both, contribute attractive ...
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Movies, Drama Movies, Drama, Historical Drama, Romantic Drama, Period Films, Ralph Finnes, Duchess Of Devonshire, Kiera Knightley, Paramount, Period Drama, Costume Drama

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