Based on the life of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire The Duchess is set in late Eighteenth Century England. It follows Georgiana’s life from a teenager on her family’s estate and through her life as the wife of the Duke of Devonshire. Before the film I was unaware of her but her story is fascinating. Married to the Duke at a young age with the promise of bearing him a male heir, Georgiana settles in to a life in the spotlight with great ease, charming everyone she meets. Behind closed doors though, life is very different as her husband becomes increasingly angrier that despite three children, none are male. He looks elsewhere for a male heir, eventually inviting Georgiana’s closest friend in to their house as a second partner for himself.
Keira Knightley is well cast as the Duchess and gives grace and poise to the role. She is an equal match for the men around her and shows both great strength and vulnerability. She looks the part of an Eighteenth Century aristocrat, helped in no small way by the fantastic costume and makeup. It is not surprising that the film won an Oscar for its costume design. Each outfit looks wonderful and of the period. It must have taken months to design and manufacture the hundreds of dresses seen in the film.
Ralph Fiennes does a good job playing Knightley’s husband, The Duke of Devonshire. No one is better than him at playing an arrogant, grumpy bastard. Where the casting falls down I believe is in Dominic Cooper’s Earl Grey. I think that Cooper is a solid actor but here he seems out of place and hidden by the great performances around him.
No one does grumpy like Ralph Fiennes
I enjoyed The Duchess much more than I expected to. The story of a spoiled aristocrat played by an actress who I am not particularly keen on had little promise for me but the film makes the audience feel very sorry for Knightley’s Duchess, something that I believe is not easy to do. The story is interesting and the setting and costumes are impressive.