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The Duchess (2008)

tomatometer

61

Average Rating: 6.3/10
Reviews Counted: 163
Fresh: 100 | Rotten: 63

While The Duchess treads the now-familiar terrain of the corset-ripper, the costumes look great and Keira Knightley's performance is stellar in this subtly feminist, period drama.

68

Average Rating: 6.6/10
Critic Reviews: 41
Fresh: 28 | Rotten: 13

While The Duchess treads the now-familiar terrain of the corset-ripper, the costumes look great and Keira Knightley's performance is stellar in this subtly feminist, period drama.

audience

67

liked it
Average Rating: 3.5/5
User Ratings: 68,074

My Rating

Movie Info

"The Duchess" is the story of an extraordinary woman who rose to fame by staying true to her passions in a world of protocol, gossip and social rules--and paid the price. Long before the concept existed, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer, was the original "It Girl." Like her direct descendent Princess Diana, she was ravishing, glamorous and adored by an entire country. Determined to be a player in the wider affairs of the world, she proved that she could out-gamble, out-drink and

PG-13,

Drama

Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, Saul Dibb

Jan 27, 2009

$13.8M

Paramount Vantage - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (166) | Top Critics (42) | Fresh (100) | Rotten (63) | DVD (18)

This is a wonderful film.

November 7, 2008 Full Review Source: At the Movies
At the Movies
Top Critic IconTop Critic

There's something really special about Kiera Knightly in these period pieces.

November 7, 2008 Full Review Source: At the Movies
At the Movies
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It chronicles the saga of a vibrant and forward-thinking woman hampered by the constraints of a rigid society.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: USA Today
USA Today
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's disturbingly shallow, focused so tightly on one woman's feelings of repression and loneliness that it lacks any perspective on their causes.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Duchess is clearly Knightley's movie, ultimately rising or falling on her performance. She's up to the task, capturing both the charm and grace that made Georgiana so captivating.

October 9, 2008 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Fiennes, an actor who disappears into roles like ice in a teacup, makes the Duke a complex and almost sympathetic figure, a bulky, unappealing man whose interests are in all the wrong things.

September 26, 2008 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Duchess doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is: a comfortable, low-calorie morsel of historical drama.

October 9, 2009 Full Review Source: Times-Picayune
Times-Picayune

a refreshing look at British royalty, and it will curb your want to be part of that era, age and societal level

March 5, 2009 Full Review Source: 7M Pictures
7M Pictures

Everything you'd expect it to be: a well-acted British period piece with lavish attention to period detail, about discontented characters in a royal family. And that's about it.

February 9, 2009 Full Review Source: Window to the Movies
Window to the Movies

At its simplest, it's a gorgeous film with beautiful period costumes and intricate set designs. However, something tells me that's not the level director Saul Dibb wanted to achieve greatest on.

January 24, 2009 Full Review Source: Movie Views

Knightley and Cooper don't ever generate much in the way of chemistry.

January 6, 2009 Full Review Source: TheMovieReport.com
TheMovieReport.com

Willing to settle for all-around competency instead of excavating history for deeper insights, leaving audiences with another undemanding genre placeholder. [Blu-ray]

December 31, 2008 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

Deserves credit for playing things straight %u2013 complete with its moral quagmire and inherent sadness. The performances of Knightley, Fiennes and Atwell really make it work.

December 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
Apollo Guide

...plays like a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of an eighteen-century soap opera.

December 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

Hands Keira Knightley another plum leading role and serves as yet another example of how Ralph Fiennes' brooding brand of acting can be successfully employed for all manner of characters.

November 26, 2008 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

With striking parallels to the life of her direct descendant, Princess Diana, this stunning film of the tortured love life of Duchess Georgiana Spencer is a triumph for its star, Keira Knightley.

November 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Hollywood.com
Hollywood.com

Relatively painless, at least by the standards of awards-season chum...

October 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Weekly
Philadelphia Weekly

Knightley shines in this tale of grace under pressure.

October 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Illinois Times
Illinois Times

Husbands and boyfriends, be especially diplomatic when accompanying your dates to The Duchess. This lavish look back at a royal pain and his beleaguered bride is a chick flick with anger issues.

October 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Film Journal International
Film Journal International

It's not bad. It's not great. It's just there.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: San Diego Metropolitan
San Diego Metropolitan

A film of elegance, wit and some power that's just a bit too compromised by its rather soapy underpinnings.

October 15, 2008 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Dibb conceived of the right, poignant atmosphere for a glimpse at rarefied 18th-century life but barely read the Cliff's Notes for whose life he was staging, or why he was doing it.

October 14, 2008 Full Review Source: Nick's Flick Picks
Nick's Flick Picks

Audience Reviews for The Duchess

In The Duchess you have one of those historical biopics - you know, "based on a true story", which since it is only "based upon" gives the screen writer carte blanche to play it any way he sees fit. Even then he and the director arrived at the dock well after the ship had sailed.

Sometimes a film is not so much about what it shows you on the screen, but what it infers by innuendo and association. The Duchess is such a film, and it suffers for it.

What is allegedly relevant for the film is that said Duchess is a Spencer, and as such, is an ancestor to everyone's darling, Lady Di. The film attempts to draw parallels, showing how the Duchess was an intelligent, strong willed young woman sucked into a marriage of opportunity in 1774 - to which, one infers that she is just like her descendant. The film goes to great length to further this concept, showing ad nauseum all the trappings of being forced into an arranged and loveless marriage; wherein her sole duty is to produce a son and heir for the duke. That she rails against the system makes a sort of feminist statement, and while I abhor the duke and everything he stood for (the assumption of power and moral certitude based on your birthright), and sympathize with any person forced into any contract without their consent - you didn't see this duchess, or Di refusing all the jewels and trappings of royalty. But enough with the socio/political statements, let's discuss the film itself.

The cinematography is top shelf and the sets and costumes beautiful, and I suppose you can't really blame Ms. Knightly in the title role - she does the best she can given the material she has to work with. The same can be said for Ralph Fiennes, who aptly plays the stuffy, pompous Duke, who while being an expert manipulator and politician, has some serious issues when it comes to expressing actual emotion.

Emotion is what appears to be lacking throughout the film - moments that are meant to be heartbreaking aren't fully grounded by any back-story so they lose much of their potential potency. There are parallels to the film Possession, involving the sacrifices made for children. In Possession the scenes are emotionally powerful, in The Duchess, all the emotion is sucked away, as what should have been an emotional reunion becomes an empty thirty seconds of film.

There was potential here that, with a bit more care, focus and development, could have made a wonderful film. Alas, all the attempts to portray the duchess as special and beloved by the people become nothing more than gratuitous scenes of empty pageantry where the duchess spoke, but didn't say anything truly impressive, a fault of the script writer yet again.

There are some bedroom scenes thrown in for good measure (it seems a pre-requisite for all period piece dramas), though they are flat and emotionless, even a pseudo rape somehow simply seems matter of fact; as if reading a passage in a pot-boiler novel "ah yes, he took her hard, and without her consent" - not much emotional energy there.

Throughout it seemed as if the film was at war with itself - wanting to show the Spencer parallel with a modern carnal sensibility, yet caught in the malaise of gentrified manners while the gossip mongers hinted of infidelities and scandal. It played like a well costumed soap opera until the film finally ran out of things to say and ended up using my least favorite film device: the written narrative conclusion - something that also seems a pre-requisite of quasi historical dramas. Kind of a "they lived happily (or not) ever after" effect. To me, if there was something important you wanted to impart to your audience, you find a way to show it and not resort to such a sloppy stunt. In this case the narrative informed us that shortly before her death the duchess gave her consent for her friend to marry her husband and become the new duchess. But wait a minute!!! The duchess was some 20 years younger than her husband - WTF?? What happened? How did she die before he did? I would have thought that this would have made for a far more interesting tale than the pointless semi political scenes that the film included in a misguided attempt to show some historical perspective.
February 23, 2011
maxthesax
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

Interesting story and good performances.
February 4, 2011
Raajay

Super Reviewer

A solid period piece.
Good acting on the part of the main characters. With Rampling and Fiennes standing out the most for me.
Beautiful sets and costumes as you might imagine.
The story is sad, but a very interesting slice of history and a nice introduction (for most of us) to a woman who was way ahead of her time in many aspects of her thinking (not to mention style).
January 31, 2011
RCCLBC
Robert C

Super Reviewer

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, its a great movie about love and betrayal.
Kiera Knightly performs yet another astonishing period drama thats interesting and brilliantly and beautifully made.
Really worth the watch.
January 16, 2011
FiLmCrAzY
Film Crazy

Super Reviewer

    1. Georgiana Spencer: I thought he'd be like Papa but he never talks to me he seems to care more about his dogs.
    – Submitted by MarieBella C (2 years ago)
    1. Georgiana Spencer: Of all the women in England, you had to throw yourself on her. I have never objected to any of your affairs. I have accepted whatever arrangement you have proposed. But this... I have one single thing of my own. Why couldn't you let me keep Elizabeth for myself? She is my sole comfort in our marriage. You have robbed me of my only friend! I want her out!
    2. Duke of Devonshire: Well I couldn't ask her of that.
    3. Georgiana Spencer: What is wrong with me?
    4. Duke of Devonshire: As a husband I have fulfilled my obligations you have not.
    – Submitted by MarieBella C (2 years ago)
    1. Georgiana Spencer: Do you think of me when we're not together?
    2. Earl Grey: You ought to know I do.
    3. Georgiana Spencer: You hesitated before you replied
    4. Earl Grey: No, I'm unused to being asked so directly. And by you of all people. I think of you all the time. I always have.
    – Submitted by MarieBella C (2 years ago)
View all quotes (3)

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