Keira Knightley has become a bit typecast in her career. Since doing period piece Pride and Prejudice in 2003, she has gone on to star in the immensely popular Pirates of the Caribbean series, in which she dons period costumes. The 2007 film Atonement, while Knightley remained corset-less, could also be classified as a period drama. Even though shes branched out and done other films like The Jacket and Domino, shes been remembered most for her period films. Some might roll their eyes at the thought of another, but 2008s The Duchess just wouldnt be the same without her.
The Duchess chronicles the life of the real life Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer, who was married to William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire. While that might sound like a boring history lesson, the movie is quite quick-paced and has many modern relevancies. Georgiana was married to the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) right before her seventeenth birthday. She was just a young girl. Immediately, the Duke begins his task of producing a male heir and Georgiana is unable to do so. She has two girls and several miscarriages. Georgiana immerses herself in the political activities of the day, hosting and attending numerous gatherings for the Whig party. With her charm and remarkable fashion sense, she wins the hearts of everyone in London.
Through these parties, Georgiana meets Mr. Grey and subsequently falls in love with him. Since her husband is having numerous affairs, she thinks that she is deserved the same rights. Georgiana also meets her sole friend through these parties, the Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was forced to leave her home by her abusive husband, and told that she would never see her children again. She is invited by Georgiana to stay with her, and there is an immediate attraction between Elizabeth (or Bess) and William, Georgianas husband. Bess and William enjoy a love affair for years, with Georgiana living in the same home, while Georgiana is banned from seeing her lover.
The film is really just about Georgiana and what she has to endure throughout her life. Nobody but Keira Knightley could be just as convincing as a 17 -year-old bride, a devoted mother, and a woman trapped in a miserable marriage, all in the same movie. This really is her show, as one of the extra features states there is only one scene in the entire film without her, and Knightley shines from start to finish. She brings this character from the 18th century into the modern world and makes us care about her. With all of the paparazzi following Georgiana around, and the popularity of her, she really could be a modern day woman. Even her way of thinking was ahead of her time. She demanded the same rights as her husband, and campaigned for the men in the Whig party long before suffrage. Knightley brings this character to life.
Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The Reader) as William, the Duke of Devonshire, is quiet in his cruelty. It seems that his character grows slowly with each scene, each more monstrous than the last. The subtlety here is brilliant. Playing best friend Elizabeth Foster is relative newcomer Hayley Atwell. She doesnt do too much in the film, really. Shes in Knightleys shadow throughout the whole film. Thats how the character is supposed to be though. Shes an accessory to the story. Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia!) is also an accessory, but hes a good looking one. His job here is to simply show passion towards Georgiana and he does that very well. The only pity is that aside from his passion towards her, he doesnt have much personality.
This is Georgianas story, and she is the most interesting character in the film. Without Keira Knightleys performance and the tight script, the movie would have failed miserably and would just be cast aside as another costume drama with Knightley in a corset. Instead, The Duchess is a surprisingly fast paced film; a passionate re-telling of the story of a truly great woman in history.
In Dolby Digital surround sound, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This movie is just gorgeous, as are typically all costume dramas.
How Far She Went…Making The Duchess – A six-part making of. The most interesting part of production was that they were able to shoot in the actual home where Georgiana lived, Chatsworth. (22:51)
Georgiana In Her Own Words – Two women historians go through some of the actual letters written by Georgiana to her mother. (7:11)
Costume Diary – NOW OSCAR NOMINATED costume designer Michael O’Conner discusses the reasons behind different costumes worn by Keira Knightley and the rest of the cast. (5:31)
The Duchess surprised me. It’s really well-paced and very interesting, and just might please those who aren’t normally fans of period costume dramas. The film was just nominated for two Academy Awards, one for art direction and the other for the costumes. It’s worth checking out.
Paramount presents The Duchess. Directed by Saul Dibb. Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen . Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: December 27, 2008. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Dominic Cooper, Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes