The Duchess: a sumptuous soap | AspenTimes.com
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The Duchess: a sumptuous soap

Roger EbertUniversal Press SyndicateAspen, CO Colorado
Paramount VantageKeira Knightley stars in The Duchess.
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Much is made in Britain of the fact that Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. I wouldnt know where to start in counting my own great-great-great-great-aunts, but the Brits have an obsession with genealogy, and then too both women married men who were fabulously wealthy, had several enormous houses and kept a mistress, and both women had lovers. The difference is, Georgiana was more interesting.She was married off by her mother at 16 to William Cavendish, the fifth Duke of Devonshire, a man who loved his dogs more than her. She was treated like chattel, valued only for her breeding ability, raped by the duke at least once, and became the most famous woman in England, save for Queen Charlotte, whose husband was merely mad. Georgiana was an outspoken liberal, a supporter of the American and French revolutions, a campaigner for one Whig prime minister (Charles Fox) and the lover of another (Charles Grey, whose daughter she bore). She was a feminist who dared to speak publicly on politics, although she accepted that women did not have the vote.The Duchess is a handsome historical film, impeccably mounted, gowned, wigged and feathered, where a husband and wife spend hours being dressed in order to appear at dinner to argue about whether the mutton is off. With Keira Knightley playing the duchess and Ralph Fiennes playing her husband, such a conversation is a minefield. The man has no conversation, addresses her primarily to issue instructions and is obsessed with the production of a male heir, who would have much to inherit, including the grandest private house in London, and Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, the favorite of all British country houses. I have visited Chatsworth, and I was in awe. At todays prices, not even Bill Gates could live like the Devonshires.For a woman to be duchess of such a private kingdom, to be immersed in politics, to be a beauty, a wit, a fashion leader and a feisty scrapper with an appetite for better sex than the duke provisioned, Georgiana must have been extraordinary. I am not sure The Duchess quite does her justice. Yes, her marital views were flexible. She disliked but tacitly accepted the dukes numerous adulteries. She made only one close female friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell), and the duke rogered her, too. Georgiana was enraged not only because of his infidelity, but also for being robbed of her friend. Later they made it up, and she accepted Bess and her three sons into their household, referring to William as our husband.I deeply enjoyed the film, but then I am an Anglophile. I imagine the behavior of the characters will seem exceedingly odd to some viewers. Well, it is. William is a right proper bastard without normal feelings a monster. How do you make love with the fifth Duke of Devonshire? You close your eyes and think of the sixth Duke of Devonshire.This is not one of those delightful movies based on a Jane Austen novel. It is about hard realists, constrained in a stifling system and using whatever weapons they can command.

The Duchess Paramount Vantage presents a film directed by Saul Dibb. Produced by Gabrielle Tana and Michael Kuhn. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and Saul Dibb, based on a book by Amanda Foreman. Photographed by Gyula Pados. Edited by Masahiro Hirakubo. Music by Rachel Portman. Running time: 109 minutes. Classified: PG-13 (for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material). Rated: Three and a half stars.

John AndersonThe Washington PostStop me if youve heard this one: A young beauty of noble descent marries a boring peer who wants the marriage but also wants his mistress. What ensues is an unhappily-ever-after story in this case, about the celebrated Georgiana Spencer, 18th-century ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. And her apparent prototype in celebrity, popularity and misery.Directed by Saul Dibb, The Duchess shows that if Dibb knows nothing else, he knows what hes got in star Keira Knightley: She seems to get as much close-up time as Bette Davis got in her entire career. Were not complaining.Knightley is magnetic. She can also act. Hollywood probably doesnt know what to do with her.Shes a beautiful, heroic and engaging Georgiana, the soon-to-be wife of the fairly abominable Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). The bewigged D wants nothing more than a son to carry on his name.Her naivete is painful, even more so in retrospect, after the Duke proves himself a brute. Under their marital roof, he seduces Georgianas friend Bess (Hayley Atwell) with the promise of helping her regain custody of her children. Then he refuses to let Bess leave. Georgiana is forced into a shotgun menage a trois.Fiennes has the unhappy task of making a dullard interesting. He succeeds.


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