Film review: The Duchess (2008), directed by Saul Dibb
Set in Georgian times, The Duchess is about a young woman, Georgiana (Keira Knightley), who at age 17, in 1774, is married off by her mum (Charlotte Rampling) to the older William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes), the 5th Duke of Devonshire. It’s not a marriage of love, and it doesn’t appear to be very convenient either. The Duke is very cold and disinterested in his new wife, who essentially is only there to provide him with an heir.
But nothing happens. Instead, the Duchess takes to engaging in politics, fashion and gambling and gets extremely popular in many circles. She picks up the Earl Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), a friend from before the marriage that she fancies, who would later have a tea named after him – and become a prime minister, but that’s by the by.
The Duchess befriends Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster (Hayley Atwell), become BFFs. Bess moves into the family home, more things happen. Other people starring: Simon McBurney as Charles Fox and Aidan McArdle as Richard Sheridan.
The Duchess is a film I’ve heard of – it’s hard not to when you like costume dramas, really – but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m not a fan of Keira Knightley to be honest, even though I think she’s a very good actress. She just doesn’t float my boat, even if she gives a tremendous performance here, as do Fiennes and Rampling and all the rest.
While I can’t help but associate Ralph Fiennes with Voldemort nowadays, there are other reasons for drawing that comparison. Cold and horrid, although Voldemort hardly took to playing with his dogs and would go to any lengths to secure himself a biological heir. He was creepy, put it that way.
The costumes and scenography were great, simply stunning. Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, where parts of this film were filmed, was actually one of the Cavendish family’s dwellings in real life, which brings a nice flare to it all. They could have just taken a random country mansion and pretended it was Chatsworth, but no, they actually went there. Chatsworth actually starred in another Keira Knightley film – Pride & Prejudice (2005) – as Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s home.
There is some laughter and joy in the film, but overall, the story is a tragedy of a woman unloved, and at times physically/sexually abused, by her husband – who provides him with children, but the “wrong” kind of children. He’s fine to have it off with pretty much anyone, but she can’t. Not really fair, is it? It’s a very telling tale about what it was like to be a posh woman back in the day, and I’m glad things have moved on since.
At times heartbreaking, but always engaging and beautiful to look at.
4 out of 5 bastard children.