Saul Dibb :: UK :: 2008 :: 1h50
At the end of the eighteenth century, the beautiful, witty and joyful Georgina Spencer becomes the first wife of the dreary Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendisch. Under pressure to provide a male heir for her husband, their formal marriage is strained under its already weak bond. Escaping her marital misfortune, she launches herself into the social scene, developing herself into a popular socialite, amassing a considerable influence within the London elite. Her estrangement from her husband, eventually leads her into the arms of the future prime minister Charles Grey, and the Duke himself into the bed of her best friend Elizabeth.
The movie’s promotion lays a parallel with the late Princess Diana (who is a descendant of Georgina Spencer) in the hope of convincing you to go and see it. Let us remind ourselves that this parallel is only superficially valid, and certainly not an important reason to remind yourself of Georgina’s life or to see this cinema adaptation. Georgina finds herself living with her husband and his mistress (her best friend) after a few years a marital misery, provoked mostly by the coincidence of their children being girls (and the Duke wanting a boy as his heir). This does not sound like the life of Princess Diana. On top of that, the Duke is portrayed here as a one-dimensional merciless brute. Prince Charles may have suffered from quite some bad press in his time, but not cruelty. Try to forget the marketing parallel, other than that Diana and Georgina are related.
The Duchess is a simple drama which puts a spotlight on Keira Knightley in, often, beautiful dresses. That should also be the prime reason for going in, as, besides her and the occasional witty remark, there is very little to add. The locations, manors, interior decorating and photography are fine but just at the customary level in costume dramas. The biggest stain is certainly the Duke himself, who seems to feel compelled to attend parties which bore him, but feels comfortable walking out of a dinner at his own home. The Duke’s dull blasé character renders the salon parties meaningless and since the parties embody society life, it would suggest he is above idle chit-chat. If he was, their lives would have been considerably more pleasant and most of the drama would be gone. A little more effort should have gone into this production, but that is no fault of Keira’s. And, thankfully, it is Keira who is mostly on screen, so for her fans out there, you know where to be!