Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Duchess

Today I saw The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.

Note: this review does contain spoilers.

Based on British history, the film tells the story of the former 18th century Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana (Knightley), who is coincidentally an ancestor to our modern-day Princess Diana of Wales.

Unfortunately, their blood was not the only thing these two women had in common.

They both had spunky, outspoken personalities; they both married young into the British Monarchy with every sincerity and hope for a loving union; and they both were cheated on, controlled, lied to and forced to remain in situations that made them miserable—the only difference is that Diana eventually got out.

The Duchess is a well-done exploration of Georgiana's sad life from the time she was married until the time of her eventual complacency to the husband (Fiennes) who was never good to her.

An excitable teenager when first joined together, Georgiana's biggest problems were that her husband didn't "talk" to her and intercourse was mere sex; not the lovemaking she craved.

After two daughters and two stillborn sons, the Duke was growing impatient waiting for an heir and had taken a lover in Georgiana's best (and only) friend Bess (Hayley Atwell). Although "G" (as they called her), had looked away at the Duke's countless other affairs, this one pained her greatly and she expressed her anger at the betrayal, only to be met with indifference on his part. After taking G by force, the Duke finally got his wish and produced a male heir.

The mistress, genuinely caring for her former friend, arranged for the real object of G's affection, politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), to reunite with her—and reunite they did. They also produced a child, daughter Eliza, which the Duke forced the Duchess to surrender to Grey's family.

Throughout this film, the performances are delivered expertly by all actors, not least of whom is Knightley herself—this is a role that feels as if it was tailor made for her, and after watching her, it's hard to picture anyone else pulling it off quite as well. Fiennes, as always is brilliant and Atwell as the conflicted Lady Elizabeth, is pitch perfect, commanding both sympathy and rage at her actions.

The real problems are plenty and scandalous, but at the end of it all, the Duke and the Duchess faced something that millions of people throughout time have faced: a loveless marriage. As the mother of the Duchess says at the beginning of the film, true love is identified instantly—it's a feeling you get that you can't escape.

The sad thing is that when you deny this magic, and gamble your own fate by doing what society (or merely your partner) feels is "right," you're most certainly going to lose. And lose Georgiana did.

It almost makes you feel guilty enjoying the film so much.

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