The Duchess – Blu-ray Review
By Jeff Swindoll Jan 5, 2009, 21:16 GMT
Like her direct descendent Princess Diana, Georgina Duchess of Devonshire was a glamorous royal, much loved by the public. While her attractiveness and charm afforded her popularity, the intelligent and vulnerable Duchess was trapped within a loveless marriage to one of the country\'s richest men. Rebelling against the establishment, Georgina became active campaigner for the liberal party and in turn, romantically involved with Earl Grey, leading her through tragedy, self-discovery ...more
Those that hate costume dramas need not apply, but those that delight in them will find The Duchess a delight. Keira Knightly is the star and does well in the lead role, but I found Ralph Fiennes performance as the Duke of Devonshire the more nuanced one and not the villain I thought he was going to be.
In 1774, Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightly) is betrothed by her mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling), to William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes), the Duke of Devonshire. The Duke is only interested in a male heir and is rather aloof to the much younger Georgiana, preferring to spend time with his dogs or fooling around with the maids.
Georgiana’s marriage definitely doesn’t turn out the way she imagined it would and the Duke is only frustrated when Georgina only sires him girls. During a visit to the town of Bath, Georgiana encounters Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell) and the two become fast friends.
Since Bess is on the outs with her husband and is lacking a place to stay Georgiana invites her back to stay with she and the Duke. Although she becomes close to Bess she regrets letting her into the house when Bess starts to take up with the Duke.
Bess’ reasoning is that she’s only taking up with the Duke so that she can see her children from her estranged husband, who has been denying her access to them. Georgiana had met Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) in her youth and begins an affair with him in response to the Duke’s affair with Bess.
She attempts to come to a compromise with the Duke that she be allowed to continue her affair with Grey since the Duke is allowed his dalliances with Bess, but the Duke reacts jealously and threatens to make it so that Georgiana cannot see her children (a common threat to the womenfolk in jolly olde England in this time period it would appear).
Georgiana reacts by continuing on with Grey, but the pull of her children is too much and she returns to the Duke but by then she’s pregnant with Grey’s child.
I’m always up for a good historical epic and The Duchess delivers in that aspect. The show belongs to Keira Knightly, after all the film is called The Duchess, as she portrays the Duchess of Devonshire.
The Duchess was a woman ahead of her time as her ideas didn’t exactly jibe with the sensibilities of the day and might be more in keeping with modern times - so much so that the lady was considered quite scandalous in her time.
The film is based on the biography by Amanda Foreman. Although Knightly is the star of the film and does rather well in the role, I found myself gravitating towards Fiennes’ performance as the Duke (not that the film should be retitled the Duke mind you).
The Duke starts off as possibly being the villain of the film and is rather aloof to his new bride. He only wants to get a male heir out of the marriage and doesn’t mind boffing the upstairs maid when the mood strikes him.
What I found intriguing is that Fiennes could’ve portrayed the Duke as a moustache twirling villain to play up our sympathies with the Duchess. What he does is give us a nuanced portrayal that hints that the Duke is a bit more sympathetic that we first thought. He’s clearly frustrated by his lack of heir and is not one to show his feelings. He does some unkind things during the course of the film but I got the impression that he’s just as trapped as Georgiana feels.
Although when it comes to allowing her to carry on with Grey as he’s carrying on with Bess his jealously and pride keep him from allowing it. It is a man’s world after all in the 1700s.
Where the Blu-ray also shines is allowing us to get an even more detailed glimpse at the lavish costumes and sets that make any costume drama worth watching. However, it’s also the wonderful performances that shine through in this glimpse into the past.
The Duchess is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (2.35:1). Special features are all presented in high definition as well. They include the 23 minute “How Far She Went” which is about the making of the film, the 7 minute “Georgiana in her own words” looking at some of the letters that she wrote, and the 5 minute “Costume Diary” about the lavish costumes. You also get two theatrical trailers (both 2 minutes).
The Duchess is an extremely well acted glimpse at a woman who was ahead of her time in her thinking. As she was she was a controversial character in that time period. Knightly is superb as the Duchess, but she’s give a run for her powdered wig by a nuanced turn from Lord Voldemort himself. If you love a good costume drama then you’re in for a treat.