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The Duchess: Movie Review


The Duchess

Rating: 5/10

Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper

Director: Saul Dibb

Stop me if you've heard this before.  An attractive girl from a well-connected English family marries a man at the height of British aristocracy. Her motives are well-intentioned, though the marriage proves loveless. 

The girl is much-loved by the public, lauded for her fashion sense, her charisma and her passion for societal issues.

Her husband's eye inevitably wanders, as does hers; and it becomes a marriage of three partners and of convenience. Oh - and her maiden name was Spencer.

Sound familiar?

Keira Knightley dons (yet another) corset to play whippersnapper Georgiana Spencer, who at 17 was married off to the insipid Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). Georgiana's sole purpose in the marriage was to produce a male heir.

A gambler and a drinker, Georgiana was politically minded - a trait not celebrated in women during the 18th Century. Over time Georgiana learnt to use her public notoriety for her own purposes; specifically furthering the career of politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).

But all wasn't well at home. Despite taking several lovers of his own - including an in-house affair that continued beyond the Duchess' death - the Duke didn't take fondly to Georgiana's wandering eye.  I'll leave you to join the dots as to what happens next.

The Duchess sets out to be an epic. In parts it succeeds: the set pieces are incredible.  Knightley's costumes are like extravagant art installations. She manoeuvres two-foot high wigs adorned with ostrich feathers. Her waist is reigned in with corsets and bustles, she accessorises with stoles, parasols, and an abundance of hats. 

But dressing up an A-list star in a corset doesn't make an epic.

Knightley does her best, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate her from one role to the next.  Georgiana is feisty, determined, the object of a man's affection: familiar territory for fans of Pirates of the Carribean, Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and more. I'd like to see Knightley in a supporting role - as part of an ensemble for a change.

Ralph Fiennes does his best with the emotionally void Duke.  But the writing is the character's undoing.  The writers have created a deplorable character; a sexist, violent hypocrite who happens to be as engaging as a dead snapper. 

He's not your archetype Hollywood villain which is refreshing, however it is still impossible to empathise with him.  If the writers had allowed one redeeming trait - even helped the audience to like him a bit - it would be a far more interesting movie.

The Duchess never quite reaches the standard it sets for itself, but it should keep fans of Keira happy.

I look forward to the sequel: The Duchess: The People's Princess.

The Duchess is released on October 9 and is rated M for sex scenes.




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