Posted by: da_nibbler | January 5, 2009

The Duchess

Yet another period piece. It’s either that or a comic book adaptation. While I usually don’t mind either, the abundance of such features in the last few years clearly has had its effect on me. And it’s not just yet another period piece, but guess who is starring in it? The British lady that wears a corset like no other. Of course I am talking of Miss Keira Knightley. Who else could be in a film about British aristocrats mainly focusing on a female character? Not that I mind watching a film starring Keira Knightley or that her almost non existent cleavage gets squeezed and pushed and whatnot by a corset. I like period films and I like Keira Knightley films. So what is wrong with The Duchess being a period piece starring Keira Knightley? It almost feels like someone took Pride and Prejudice and put another label on it. Voila. New film.

That is not to say that Pride and Prejudice and The Duchess are the same film or are covering the same subject matter. But it is hard not to see the parallels between the two mentioned films and I am not just talking about Keira Knightley. Granted, the same historical setting with a female hero as the main character ultimately has to bring up the same issues – most notably the sexism of those times – but is it really that hard for writers and directors to give their films something unique?

This time we are introduced to Lady Georgiana, played by Knightley, who is just about to get married to the Duke of Devonshire, played by Ralph Fiennes, one of the most influential people of Britain. The Duke, not Ralph Fiennes. She soon becomes a celebrity of her time, her vibrant beauty desired by every man. Every man besides her husband that is. All he is interested in is producing a male heir, which Georgiana has been unable to give him. Their two daughters are of no interest to him. Being stuck in her loveless marriage all she has are her kids and her best friend, Lady Foster. But to put another nail in her coffin her husband starts an affair with Lady Foster further alienating Georgiana. She in return starts an affair of her own that will unravel life as she knows it leaving her with but one choice in the end.

After everything I just wrote it might surprise people that I actually quite enjoyed this film. Knightley does as she always does in films, meaning looking good, pouting a bit and gracing us with some decent to good acting on her part. But it is Ralph Fiennes that truly shines as the abusive and ice cold Duke of Devonshire.

My only or main complaint with this film is the script. Why the emphasis was put on the love life and marital problems as opposed to the more interesting political endeavors as well as her drinking and gambling problems is beyond me. For the time it is set in she was a remarkably liberal woman that influenced politics and society heavily. A lot of comparisons have been and can be drawn between The Duchess and Marie Antoinette. Their high importance and fascination doesn’t lie in their love life, but in the impact these women had on history around them. Shame that director Saul Dibb didn’t chose to go there more.

Watching the film made me read up on the historical figure. Maybe it gives that incentive to more of its viewers since we have been deprived of the actual historical lesson in the film.


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