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October 1, 2008 > Movie Review: The Duchess

Movie Review: The Duchess

By Heidi Leung

Glamorous, inspiring, and tragically romantic, the Duchess, is a real delight. Based on the biography "Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire" by Amanda Foreman, the story reveals the complicated details of Georgiana's private life pieced together from scattered letters that the author stumbled upon during her Ph.D thesis research at Oxford.

Beneath the stylish and eloquent exterior so adored by the public, Georgiana (Keira Knightley) was also intelligent and passionate. She believed in romantic love but was trapped in a business-like marriage to the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) who saw her only as a tool for the reproduction of a male heir. Georgiana was immensely popular, so much so that her husband was declared to be "the only man in England not in love with his wife." Because of her husband's infidelity, she dedicated her time to fun and politics until his sexual escapades resulted in a live-in mistress named Bess (Haley Atwell) who had befriended Georgiana to get into the house.

The Duke, unwilling to ask Bess to leave, forced Georgiana to face their marital problems which resulted in her affair with aspiring politician, Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Feeling loved for the first time, Georgiana finally found the romance she longed for but is forced to choose between her children and new-found happiness.

The first thing to note about this movie is that the trailer portrays the movie in an inaccurate light. With epic music blaring in the background and the most tragic moments of Georgiana's life spliced into approximately a minute and a half, one gets the impression that this is a major drama. Although there are sob-worthy moments, much of the film is light-hearted and filled with delicious British dry humor. Better yet, that humor is served with a bevy of jaw-dropping costume changes for Georgiana's fame is largely due to her fashion sense. Michael O' Connor, whose recent costume credits include the enchanting clothes of "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," made sure to reconstruct the 18th century garments as accurately as possible. It is a great film to study costume history and to romanticize about the care and attention that went into daily dressing. Since fashion has such a large part in the film, who better to play Georgiana than the Chanel muse herself, Keira Knightley.

When it comes to period films, Keira Knightley shines. Her performance as Georgiana is brilliantly played, not only because she wears the costumes with so much grace, but she is able to portray the changes that Georgiana experiences with every major event in her life. At the helm of every major tragedy in the film, Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire causes the audience to defy all logic by making it impossible to hate the man who causes Georgiana so much grief. He can literally melt hearts though his lines are brief; his eyes explain it all.

The Duke's mistress, Bess, played by Haley Atwell, does the character a great justice. Like Ralph Fiennes', her facial expressions do a lot for the character and she is difficult to dislike. Unfortunately, unlike the three leading characters, Dominic Cooper's portrayal of Charles Grey is disappointing. His performance is not just inferior in comparison with other major roles he is outshined even by the minor character of Georgiana's mother, played by Charlotte Rampling, whose horrible advice is both disturbing and funny.

Entertaining, smart, and visually stunning, the cast and crew have successfully represented the life of the Duchess of Devonshire. This is just as Amanda Foreman, who felt a strong connection to Georgiana through the penning of her biography, would have wanted. Romantic, dramatic, comedic, and beautiful it is a film that encompasses everything a girly-girl could hope for. If that isn't convincing enough, it is a must see for fans of the late Princess Diana, a direct descendent of Georgiana and whose own tragic story is said to have been a repeat of the Duchess.

Runtime: 110 Minutes
Rating: PG-13

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