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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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Royality Misunderstood...Again

  • Apr 14, 2009
  • by

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 to know if this film, a film with the very similar premise of female royalty being compressed by their emotionless male husbands, is any better than last year's effort. The answer is yes; though don't take that as a solid recommendation yet.

The movie revolves around Georgiana (Kiera Knightly), who has just been given wonderful news from her mother: The Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) has asked for her hand in marriage. It is the 18th Century, and for better or worse, marriage is a girl's career. So to be married to the Duke means you're life is very successful. She enters the marriage with high hopes and dreams, but the Duke does not love her. He marries her because he needs a male heir, a problem that becomes more problematic when she gives birth to two girls. As the marriage goes on the Duke has affairs, he shows more affection to his dogs than to her, and constantly berates her for not producing a male. Though limited to what she can do she is no fool. At social gatherings she is the life of the party. So much so that it appears she dictates what can be considered fashionable, during a period where she doesn't have to compete with the Macy's catalog.

Though it may appear to be a formulaic film thee are glimpses of more depth to the characters. Though the Duke is cold to Georgiana he is not an evil man. He treats her the way he was raised by his parents, and at times seems to realize what he is doing is wrong, but then he can't back away from the established order of things. A friendship with a Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling) starts out innocently enough before growing wildly complicated and then getting completely out of control (and just to cut off all the horny teens, no, there is no trace of lesbianism to be found in this film). Still, for all the subtle nuances of the film, and the elaborate costume designs, this is a simple movie at best.

One that we've seen before, and one that we've probably have seen done better. So why do I give this a passing grade then? Well, to explain you have to remember that the star system is suggestive and not absolute. Considering what the film was trying to say and who it was trying to say it to, then this film can be considered a success. If you like period pieces then this is likely right up your alley. Aside from a certain familiarness there is nothing wrong with this movie, and I was moderately entertained through most of it. There are no scenes of pure brilliance or anything I'm likely to remember in the years to come, but I enjoyed it while it lasted and I think fans of this genre will too.


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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 03, 2009
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 …
review by . December 04, 2008
The Duchess DVD
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 …
About the reviewer
Kevin T. Rodriguez ()
Ranked #127
Kevin T. Rodriguez is an aspiring film journalist. He's more comfortable typing a review then doing an on-camera appearance, but he loves doing the occasional rant. Whether it be on movies, eBay, or comics, … more
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About this movie


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

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, Costume Drama, Ralph Finnes, Duchess Of Devonshire, Kiera Knightley, Paramount, Period Drama


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