The Duchess: Movie Review
Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell,
Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper
Director: Saul Dibb
Stop me if you've heard this before. An attractive girl from a
well-connected English family marries a man at the height of British
aristocracy. Her motives are well-intentioned, though the marriage proves
The girl is much-loved by the public, lauded for her fashion sense, her
charisma and her passion for societal issues.
Her husband's eye inevitably wanders, as does hers; and it becomes a marriage
of three partners and of convenience. Oh - and her maiden name was Spencer.
Keira Knightley dons (yet another) corset to play whippersnapper Georgiana
Spencer, who at 17 was married off to the insipid Duke of Devonshire (Ralph
Fiennes). Georgiana's sole purpose in the marriage was to produce a male
A gambler and a drinker, Georgiana was politically minded - a trait not
celebrated in women during the 18th Century. Over time Georgiana learnt to use
her public notoriety for her own purposes; specifically furthering the career of
politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).
But all wasn't well at home. Despite taking several lovers of his own -
including an in-house affair that continued beyond the Duchess' death - the Duke
didn't take fondly to Georgiana's wandering eye. I'll leave you to join the
dots as to what happens next.
The Duchess sets out to be an epic. In parts it succeeds: the set pieces are
incredible. Knightley's costumes are like extravagant art installations. She
manoeuvres two-foot high wigs adorned with ostrich feathers. Her waist is
reigned in with corsets and bustles, she accessorises with stoles, parasols, and
an abundance of hats.
But dressing up an A-list star in a corset doesn't make an epic.
Knightley does her best, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to
differentiate her from one role to the next. Georgiana is feisty, determined,
the object of a man's affection: familiar territory for fans of Pirates of the
Carribean, Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and more. I'd like to see Knightley in
a supporting role - as part of an ensemble for a change.
Ralph Fiennes does his best with the emotionally void Duke. But the writing
is the character's undoing. The writers have created a deplorable character; a
sexist, violent hypocrite who happens to be as engaging as a dead snapper.
He's not your archetype Hollywood villain which is refreshing, however it is
still impossible to empathise with him. If the writers had allowed one
redeeming trait - even helped the audience to like him a bit - it would be a far
more interesting movie.
The Duchess never quite
reaches the standard it sets for itself, but it should keep fans of Keira happy.
I look forward to the sequel: The Duchess: The People's Princess.