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The Duchess

4.1 56
Director: Saul Dibb

Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling


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Director Saul Dibb takes the helm for this period drama adapted from Amanda Foreman's best-selling novel Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, documenting the romantic entanglements of Georgiana Cavendish (Keira Knightley), a beautiful and clever woman who becomes a celebrity of British high society when she marries the Duke of


Director Saul Dibb takes the helm for this period drama adapted from Amanda Foreman's best-selling novel Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, documenting the romantic entanglements of Georgiana Cavendish (Keira Knightley), a beautiful and clever woman who becomes a celebrity of British high society when she marries the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) and becomes consort to one of the most powerful men in England. Beloved for her trend-setting fashion designs as well as her political activism, Georgiana's fire and wit make her a beloved figure everywhere but her own home, where her cold and distant husband's control over her is stifling, soon sending her into the arms of a another man -- an act that soon forces her to learn about the brutal difference in the rights afforded to 18th century men and women.

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The delicious pageantry of the big-hair-and-big-dresses historical drama is a glorious and melodramatic tradition, perfected through years of refinement in the areas of wig-making and bold, sidelong glances. Unfortunately, The Duchess opts out of this tradition, and shoots for an absolutely sober level of realism -- which doesn't make it a bad movie, but doesn't do it many favors either. The title role is played by Keira Knightley, the go-to girl for the romantic leading lady in period movies (Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Silk, The Edge of Love). Knightley's screen presence evokes passion, romance, and cheek-bony ethereal beauty, and you can see why she ends up playing the lead in so many of these films, but there's a distinction to the kind of period piece that seems to be her forte. After all, it's one thing to play the naïve and soon-to-be heartbroken damsel in a sweeping tale of corsets and desire, and it's another to play Catherine the Great or Elizabeth I. Knightley's talents certainly lie in the former category, but while she may be no Cate Blanchett, her casting as the trail-blazingly iconic Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire isn't really a bad fit at all. The young actress doesn't bring much gravitas to the role, but you can't say the girl isn't earnest. If there's anything Knightley can do, especially with her copious experience at projecting operatic levels of rapture and tragedy, it's enact emotion. She makes every moment of Georgiana's hope and sadness (not to mention her many moments of total hysteria) play as totally genuine, and for the purposes of this film, that's all she needs to do. Georgiana is an intelligent woman -- and no doubt so is Knightley -- but even the smartest lady in 1774 England couldn't grow into a functioning, emotionally mature adult under the duress of high society's insulated and bizarre rituals and restrictions. That would seem to be the whole point of the story: the tragedy of Georgiana's squandered potential at the hands of a culture, legal system, and husband that treat her alternately like child and a potentially defective Male Heir Maker. The system reduces Georgiana to frustrated screaming again and again. Ralph Fiennes plays opposite to this, as her husband, the Duke of Devonshire, and the brilliance he brings to this role appears to exceed what was provided for him in the script. Written mainly as a prop in the story's textbook template of the arranged marriage to a powerful guy who sounds great on paper until it turns out he's kind of jerk, Fiennes brings almost absurdly real levels of nuance to the part. Playing neither the Sympathetic Boring Husband nor the Total Raging Bastard (despite scenes where the dialogue adheres strictly to one of these archetypes), Fiennes somehow turns the duke into a fully realized character, a man full of virtues and flaws, who does both touching and unforgivable things, whose behaviors are attributable to both his environment and his quality of character. Sometimes you want Georgiana to stab him in the night with a letter opener and blame it on the houseboy, but most of the time he elicits anger and irritation on a par with a neighbor who buys a German shepherd, leaves it home alone all day, and then bitches and moans about it tearing the house up. You'd like to smack him in the head for never learning that a smart breed of dog will go freaking crazy with nothing to do, and you might not let your kids play in his yard, but you probably won't decide he's evil. He's a negligent cretin, not a black hat villain, and that isn't an easy thing to play. The only problem is that with everybody being so earnest, things can get really, really flat. The film covers all the classic (which is to say, typical) bases for a movie about a great historical woman (the auspicious arranged marriage that seems awesome until she has to sleep with him, the torrid secret affair with a much hotter guy, the obligate moment when she tells some incredulous advisor that she'd like to nurse her own baby), but these scenes are so tried that, played straight, they somehow seem calculated and oblivious at the same time. Or, alternately, when things in the story gets flat-out ridiculous, it ends up feeling weird and dissonant. It's fair to say these scenes are supposed to evoke whatever Georgiana is feeling, but this can become a real issue when it just doesn't work. And especially when such crazy events are happening as characters are meeting in fields to exchange babies and people's wigs are catching on fire, the movie needs a dash of old-fashioned costume drama stylization. The sauciness usually helps to round out those kinds of wild moments -- the pageantry provides padding, an implicit understanding that such strange moments demand equivocal theatricality -- but sadly, this appears to be an effect that director Saul Dibb was decidedly uninterested in, and that Miss Knightley, bless her heart, does not yet seem to have in her repertoire.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
[Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround]

Special Features

How Far She... Making the Duchess hd; Georgiana in her own words hd; Costume diary hd

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Keira Knightley Georgiana Spencer
Ralph Fiennes Duke of Devonshire
Charlotte Rampling Lady Spencer
Dominic Cooper Earl Grey
Hayley Atwell Lady Bess Foster
Simon McBurney Charles Fox
Aidan McArdle Richard Sheridan
John Shrapnel Gen. Grey
Alistair Petrie Heaton

Technical Credits
Saul Dibb Director,Screenwriter
Alexandra Arlango Co-producer
Lucy Bevan Casting
Michael Carlin Production Designer
Amanda Foreman Executive Producer
Simon Fraser Sound/Sound Designer
Jeffrey Hatcher Screenwriter
Masahiro Hirakubo Editor
Mark Holt Special Effects Supervisor
François Ivernel Executive Producer
Anders Thomas Jensen Screenwriter
Michael Kuhn Producer
Christine Langan Executive Producer
Carolyn Marks-Blackwood Executive Producer
Cameron Mccracken Executive Producer
Michael O'Connor Costumes/Costume Designer
Gyula Pados Cinematographer
Daniel Phillips Makeup
Rachel Portman Score Composer
Gabrielle Tana Producer
David M. Thompson Executive Producer
Karen Wakefield Art Director
Colleen Woodcock Co-producer


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The Duchess 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
ReneeB28 More than 1 year ago
I was really very excited to watch this movie because I absolutely loved the book, written by Amanda Foreman called Georgiana; Duchess of Devonshire. I was disappointed in the movie, but I think that it was because I read the book first and was familiar with all of the minute facts that the movie glossed over or missed. However, the movie did an excellent job of showing what life looked like for Georgiana. The scenery was breathtaking and the coloring was exquisite. Most of the scenes were shot in the actual places Georgiana lived in or visited, and this really lent a realistic and relatable quality to the film. The costumes were also astoundingly beautiful. Although the movie did not stick to the book, and did leave out some details, which I thought were important, it is still a good movie. However, I do recommend that, at some point, the viewer should take time to read the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Based on the historical biography of a great, great, great, great aunt of Lady Diana. The book has two titles, Georgiana or re-named The Duchess for the film. Similar in popularity to Diana, Georgiana was a royal star and a fashion trend-setter. She was close in age to Marie Antoinette and had similar problems with partying and gambling. What the film fails to convey is that she was a politician 100 years before her time. The book is so interesting but the movie is a big disconnect. People walking out of the theater who hadn't read the book did not understand what was so great about the movie. Missed opportunity with such a great cast, costumes and set.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful vehicle for Keira Knightley to display her considerable talents. It is haunting how many parallels exist between the lives of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and her great-great-great-great niece, Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. A film worth watching and owning.
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Diongu More than 1 year ago
Keira Knightly carries this sumptuous feast for the eye on her shoulders all the way. A lovely performance of a woman trapped, by circumstance, position and previlage. Throw in lovely settings, lavish costumes and grand sets, Duchess will enthral as it will seduce. Not for everyone, I am afraid. But if one is willing to put up with a longish narative, one will be well-rewarded in th end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating story. Keira Knightley's performance was great.
PookyStew More than 1 year ago
A beautifully filmed, wonderfully costumed, plotless film. This offers very little in the way of character developement. With this cast, I expected a lot more and was sadly dissapointed.
Lilo02 More than 1 year ago
I havent read the book yet but I did see the movie. In fact thats how I was introduced to the book lol. Over all its one of my favorite classical type of movies done w/ Keira Knightley and Dominic Cooper. Usually Im not really the type to be watching stuff like that but I fell in love with this movie and I can't wait till I get started on reading the book.
magneeta More than 1 year ago
Gorgeous, gorgeous movie...to LOOK at. Ralph Fiennes is excellent and Keira Knightley does a fair job as well. The plot's a little weak and it seems we only touch certain aspects of her life and the film itself does very little "digging" - it's more of a spot capture of any prolific events in The Duchess's life. I felt a little "empty" after watching it...
bbgirl More than 1 year ago
I was actually quite relieved to see this movie portray the husband's adulterous side and not just the wife's. So many other movies that are set in this same time period paint the woman out to be the unfaithful spouse but The Duchess actually shows the hardship that the wife goes through - having her husband take the one close friend she felt she had as his mistress ... dining with and even living with them! Only after this does the duchess have an affair of her own.
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