Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Duchess (2008) [PG-13] ****

Set in the late 1700s, The Duchess is the story of the beautiful, glamorous, charismatic Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) the most fascinating woman of her time. Married at seventeen to the older, cold-hearted Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), who demanded only loyalty and a male heir, Georgiana soon grew bored with married life, and began to take an interest in society and politics.

She became a celebrity socialite, known for her taste and sense of fashion. A shrewd political insider, she was the intimate of princes and ministers, as well as a doting mother. But the essence of Georgiana's story is her desperate search for love, seasoned with her thirst for drinking, gambling and other vices. She befriended Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), and invited her into her home, only to have Bess become the Duke's mistress, and the third person in her marriage. Later Georgiana indulged in a passionate affair with rising politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), but after she had given her lover a daughter, the Duke cruelly forced Georgiana to choose between sacrificing her lover and her newborn, or leaving the Duke and never seeing her children again.

The Duchess is Knightley's best performance to date, better than either Pride & Prejudice or Atonement. Georgiana is the center of the film, and is in nearly every scene. Knightley succeeds with aplomb, bringing both vulnerability and nobility to her role. Equally powerful is Fiennes as the Duke, a man who could force his wife to accept his dalliances and his live-in mistress yet threaten to take her children away from her when she had an affair. Hayley Atwell is sympathetic as the Duke's mistress, but there's little chemistry between Knightley and Cooper in the vital relationship between Georgiana and her lover. Direction, cinematography, sets and supporting cast are excellent. And yes, there are many parallels between Georgiana Spencer and her descendant Princess Diana Spencer. 

Labels: biography, drama, history

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 62/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=63, viewers=70)
Wikipedia - Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

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