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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