The Duchess

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A chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who reviled for her extravagant political and personal life. She is a vibrant beauty and celebrity of her time. But she is trapped in an unhappy triangle with her husband and his live-in mistress. She falls passionately in love with an ambitious young politician, and the affair causes a bitter conflict with her husband and threatens to erupt into a scandal.  -IMDB synopsis

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Is it me, or are the movies (in general) becoming too simple, predictable, and just plain dull?  I’m not feeling strongly about most of the (mainstream) movies these days.  Many people I know feel the same, too.  However, I went last weekend to see two new films: The Duchess (with a group of ladies from NYBAP) and W (by myself; my mom saw it before me, and said it was interesting).  Though I wasn’t “wowed” by either of these movies, I recommend you see them (when they come out on DVD).  Below is a review of The Duchess; I will soon write about W as well. 

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There is no denying that Keira Knightley has a strikingly beautiful face; she reminds you of Brooke Shields as a very young woman.  She has gotten a lot of exposure, and grown as an actress since making a big splash as a teen tomboy in the Bend it like Beckham.  Not all the projects she’s chosen haven been hits, but I’m sure she’s learned a lot from them.  In The Duchess (based on actual events), Keira plays Georgiana, an independent-minded young lady who becomes the Duchess of Devonshire in 18th century England.  Her husband, the Duke, is played by Ralph Fiennes (his family is distantly related to British royalty).  He is always interesting to watch, both as a hero and villain.  Unfortunately, in the first half of the movie, he comes across as a rather cartoonish villain.  Subtlety is one of the main things missing from modern pictures!         

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G (as she is called by family and friends) goes from being a bubbly teen girl to a troubled married woman before you can say “corset.”  Her husband is nothing like a girl expects- he’s distant, uncommunicative, and has many affairs.  He becomes even colder when G fails to provide a (male) heir.  Her mother, played very well by Charlotte Rampling, says that women must bear many burdens.  (Divorce was very rare at that time.)

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G’s closest friend, Lady Elizabeth Eshton, is one of the bright spots in her life.  Hayley Atwell, who plays Lady Elizabeth, is a well-developed character who brings (much-needed) depth to this film.  She’s a “woman of the world” who has lived through many trials; she cares deeply for her friend.  While Keira is thin and light on her feet, Hayley is very curvaceous and earthy.  G is a wide-eyed “people-pleaser”; Lady Elizabeth is tougher.  She observes others closely with her small, dark, curious eyes.

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G, though unloved by her husband, becomes a popular fashion icon.  The hairdos, costumes, and (especially) jewels in this film are gorgeous.  She also gets involved in politics, supporting men like Lord Fox (who spoke against slavery, among other injustices).  A young lawyer, played by Dominic West, from G’s girlhood is Fox’s right-hand man.  He has strong feelings for G, even after several years apart.  G is torn between her duty (as wife, mother, high society figurehead, etc.) and desire to experience real love. 

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This film does a good job of re-creating 18th century high society and laying down the (often unspoken) rules of the day.  If you are familiar with that stuff (like me), then it won’t be a biggie to you.  (You’ll be bored, honestly!)  I felt sorry for Ralph Fiennes because he’s (obviously) capable of more subtle acting.  He was too much of a baddie in The Duchess; I don’t think many husbands of that day acted like the Duke.  (I won’t give it away, but he does some heinous stuff.)   There was an (obvious) lack of chemistry between Keira and Dominic; if you want to see real sparks of young love, check out Atonement.  Keira looks great with James McAvoy in that film; they feel like a real couple.  There are some bright moments here and there, like the (unusual) friendship between G and Lady Elizabeth.  The sets and scenery are fabulous, and there is a great moment of drama involving G and one of her children.  It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend two hours.  

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4 thoughts on “The Duchess

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