The Duchess

The Duchess


Reviewed by: Maria Realf

Saul Dibb’s sumptuous new movie sees Keira Knightley doing exactly what she does best – playing the posh, pretty heroine in another romantic period piece. She was excellent in Atonement, Oscar-nominated in Pride & Prejudice, and she’s not too bad in this new offering either. Hey, if it ain’t broke Keira, don’t fix it.

She stars as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who happens to be an ancestor of the late Princess Diana. While watching the film, it’s virtually impossible to ignore several spooky parallels between their lives: like her famous descendant, Georgiana married young and was thrust into the public eye; she became a fashion icon and won the heart of a nation; yet she grew increasing isolated from her husband and eventually looked for love elsewhere. However, while Diana may have famously said: “There were three of us in this marriage”, it was literally true in Georgiana’s case – her close friend Bess ended up living with them as the Duke’s mistress!

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In the lead role, Knightley manages to appear both aristocratic and vulnerable – but she’s still upstaged by Ralph Fiennes’ stuffy Duke. Not since Alan Rickman played the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves has a character been quite so deliciously dark and comically callous. While he doesn’t play it for pantomime laughs, his heartless remarks and general awkwardness make for a highly entertaining performance.

Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper suggests he could be one to watch with a charismatic turn as Georgiana’s lover, Charles Grey. Though he’s not entirely convincing as a future Prime Minister, he’s certainly much easier on the eye than Gordon Brown, and after his recent success in Mamma Mia!, he may soon be able to give Orlando Bloom a run for his money as the new pretty boy on the block.

Hayley Atwell has also been labelled the Next Big Thing, but her portrayal of Bess doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Despite being naturally beautiful in a Kate Winslet-esque way, she fails to exude the same kind of star quality as Kate or even Keira, making it hard to perceive her as an alluring love rival. In fact, the lack of chemistry between Bess and the Duke is one of the movie’s major sticking points. While it’s clear that part of the appeal for her is the security he provides, it’s hard to see what’s really in it for him in the long term.

Ultimately, the film suffers from the same problem as the marriage it depicts: a lack of sizzling passion. Sure, it looks pretty – the sets and costumes really are fabulous – but no amount of lavish décor can truly compensate for the absence of sexual tension. There’s no Colin-Firth-in-the-lake moment here, nor the gut-wrenching intensity of The English Patient. It’s all just a bit tame.

That’s not to say that this is a stinker, because there’s much to be admired. It’s visually stunning – a spectacular feast of colour and grandeur – and at under two hours, it doesn’t outrun its welcome. It simply feels as though it’s missing that special something that could have made it a classic. But never mind, Keira – there’s always next time…

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2008
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The true story of an aristocrat who came into conflict with the political and moral system of her day.
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Read more The Duchess reviews:

Val Kermode ***1/2

Director: Saul Dibb

Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen

Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Charlotte Rampling, Hayley Atwell, Aidan McArdle, Georgia King, Simon McBurney, Mercy Fiennes Tiffin

Year: 2008

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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