The Duchess Reviews
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.
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).
Kiera Knightly performs yet another astonishing period drama thats interesting and brilliantly and beautifully made.
Really worth the watch.
Director: Saul Dibb
Summary: Keira Knightley stars as Georgiana Spencer, a young duchess who indulges in extravagant vices and begins a scandalous affair with politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) to balance her unhappy marriage to the duke of Devonshire .
My Thoughts: "I have now seen Keira Knightley in a few period pieces, and this has to be my favorite along with 'Pride and Prejudice'. She gives such an amazing performance as Georgiana. Maybe her best acting that I have seen. Ralph Fiennes also puts in a great performance as the easy to hate husband, Duke of Devonshire. But this was Keira's film. She gave such an emotional performance that I completely felt it all with her. Georgiana must have been an extremely strong woman to endure her life's misfortunes. Mainly the cruelty of her husband. *SPOILER* When she has to hand over the child she bared with Earl Grey, I totally lost it and cried with her. It was such a sad and heartbreaking moment. *END OF SPOILER* Hayley Atwell, was also very good in the film as Lady Bess Foster. She really pulls you in and you like her. Then you hate her, just to kinda go back to liking her just a bit. Her character had a bit of a sad story as well. I really liked Dominic Cooper as Earl Grey. The story is sad, depressing, and emotional. Definitely a film I wouldn't mind seeing again."
The main problem with The Ducjess isn't Keira, the other actors, or the grand palaces and beautiful English locales that serve as the setting. It's the title character herself, who's written to be a bit too plucky and familiar. Yes, I get that she's a woman who's smarter than many of the powerful men that surround her, and yes, I sympathize with her when her idealism and naïveté meet the unyeilding wall of the real world. But these things have been done to death, and the story is incredibly predictable as a result. I'm waiting for one of these movies to spin the genre on its head...there has to be a way to keep them somewhat historically accurate, while discarding the constantly re-used plot devices.
You know what you're getting here, and you probably know whether you'll like it or not. Just don't expect anything more than a slightly above-average example of the genre.
Films in Keira Knightley's filmography that aren't shorts, TV episodes or bit parts: 21
Amount of these films which are period pieces (the Pirates movies count): 14
14 divided by 21: 0.66
That's 66% of Keira Knightley's working career that she has spent wearing frilly dresses and speaking in clipped, unintelligible motormouth dialogue. Two thirds of her films! Jesus Christ, do another rom-com or an adventure flick or be addicted to drugs or something. I think she even beats out Scarlett Johansson in this category. I am sick of this woman.
Edit 2/17: Having actually seen the movie, what I said above still holds true. And though it's obvious that Knightley clings to period drama because she's very good at it, (imagine Angelina Jolie attempting a bodice-ripper) the material here is substandard and didn't really merit her attention. The Duchess is Marie Antoinette's leftovers. This movie does nothing that Sofia Coppola's underrated character study did fifty times more effectively and vividly. Nothing here resonates or enlightens; the whole affair feels like a melodramatic petty misery show between a bunch of boring people. Nothing new here.
Furthermore, who in their right mind would cheat on Ralph Hot-Ass Fiennes with Dominic Cooper? Homeboy looks like one of those fish whose eyes are on the opposite sides of their bodies.