by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Keira Knightley as GEORGIANA
Ralph Fiennes as DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
Charlotte Rampling as LADY SPENCER
Dominic Cooper as CHARLES GREY
Hayley Atwell as BESS FOSTER
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Directed by: Saul Dibb
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I’ve never been one for period pieces, and throw Keira Knightley into the mix, and I end up less interested. Don’t get me wrong. She’s easy on the eyes and all, but she’s been associated with Jane Austin a little too much for my tastes.
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However, “The Duchess” gives us something more than your standard costume drama. Like “The Tudors” on television an last year’s “The Other Boleyn Girl,” “The Duchess” delves into the scandals and bedroom antics of European royalty in the past. It’s a bit like “The Jerry Springer Show” if it were shown on PBS.
The movie follows the aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish as she captures the eye of the Duke of Devonshire, weds him and fails to bear a son. With her relationship in jeopardy, she struggles to raise her daughters and deal with her cheating husband, sometimes finding love in another man’s arms as well.
When it comes to the sordid drama, “The Duchess” doesn’t hit as hard as “The Other Boleyn Girl,” and it has a bit of stuffiness around the characters. A lot of this comes from the actors striving to keep their air of royalty amid the 18th century relationship drama. But while they may live in castles, their hearts are not that far from the trailer park. It’s at least a refreshing look at British royalty, and it will curb your want to be part of that era, age and societal level.
As much as “The Duchess” is a soap opera with fancy dresses, it’s also that full-blown costume drama steeped in design and glamour. The costume design is fantastic, and it manages to capture the flavor of 18th century celebrity status that Duchess Georgiana enjoyed, much more than “Marie Antoinette” did several years ago.
Keira Knightley makes the role her own and lays on the royal air as thick as she can. In a few short years, she has proved herself to be a formidable force in the term of versatile A-list actors. She works as royalty as much as she does the average girl, and she manages to be both intoxicating in the mainstream pieces as much as she is the films for historical junkies.
Acting kudos also goes to Ralph Fiennes, who gives us the closest thing to a villain in this film. As the Duke of Devonshire, he’s a royal ass (please pardon the pun), but it is a performance that is true to its day. He blames the woman for not bearing a son, and he gives himself total freedom to find love elsewhere.
With Fiennes’ deft portrayal of the Duke who shares his love with the Duchess and another girl named Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), the film examines the complex and often overly complicated relationships that the aristocrats had three hundred years ago.
The DVD comes with a well done making-of featurette that looks at various aspects of the production without getting too self-congratulatory. There’s also a bit about Georgiana and her writings called “Georgiana in Her Own Words.” And, of course, what costume drama could be complete without a nice spotlight on the costumes of the film.
Having interviewed costume designers before, I will admit that their take on films is more interesting than you’d first expect, and the “Costume Diary” offers some keen insight into the thought process that goes behind this aspect of the production.