The Duchess

I watched The Duchess on the plane ride back to the States and can’t describe how embarrassing it was to be crying like a baby everytime the crew members came by! Keira Knightley was as fabulous in this as she was in Pride and Prejudice (one of my favourite movies for so many reasons).

Click the picture to go to the official website for the trailer

This is another British period drama in which Knightley plays Georgiana (Spencer), who was the Duchess of Devonshire in the late 1700s. This is a true story and the Duchess of Devonshire was, publicly, a powerful and influential young woman living at a time when women had no power and little influence. The film shows how very little power she really had over her own personal and private life, as the wife of the callous and uncaring peer, the 4th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish. It centers around her life at home and in society and is a beautiful but distressing portrayal of a young woman desperately searching for love and a modicum of equality in a world that offers her neither.

The parts of William Cavendish and his lover Lady Bess Foster (with whom the Duchess is forced to share her husband and home) are played wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes and Hayley Atwell, and the part of Georgiana’s lover, Charles, Earl Grey (later Prime Minister of The United Kingdom) was also well performed by Dominic Cooper.

The film is a fairytale of splendour, with the costumes and wigs, and the grand settings of Chatsworth (the actual ancestral home of the Cavendish family), Bath, Holkham Hall, Clandon Park, Kedleston Hall, and Somerset House . The film has already been nominated for several awards and won, deservedly, for best costume design at the 13th Annual Satellite awards in 2008.

TimeOut London’s review stated that Knightley produced a “mature, restrained” performance, and that it was “a masterclass in passive aggression from Fiennes and a performance of tender seduction from Atwell.” I think that hits the nail on the head! It is a long film but I enjoyed the performances and the storyline so much that I didn’t really notice.

Intriguingly, Georgiana Cavendish was an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. While I would never accuse Prince Charles of being in the same league as the Duke of Devonshire for brutality or spite, there are some interesting parallels in the lives of the two women.

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