Those who loved or hated the biographical film Marie Antoinette will certainly find a compromising ground in The Duchess. Based on the life of the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (where many historians parallel her life with Princess Diana of Wales), the film remains an exquisite exhibit of women’s testament and of course, flawless sense of aristocratic fashion. With big stars such as the lovely Kira Knightley and the veteran Ralph Fiennes, the film is destined to draw a respectable group of movie enthusiasts and historians alike, but is the final picture as faultless as the sense of fashion, or intolerable as the cold marriage relationship that was portrayed?
Based on Amanda Foreman’s bestselling biography, The Duchess tracks the life of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire; she was ravishing, glamorous and adored by an entire country. Determined to be a player in the wider affairs of the world, she proved that she could out-gamble, out-drink and outwit most of the aristocratic men who surrounded her. But even as her power and popularity grew, she was haunted by the fact that the only man in England who didn’t seem to adore her was her very own husband, the Duke, as she couldn’t births a male heir to him. As their relationships grew troubled, a series of resulting controversies and convoluted liaisons would leave all of London talking.
The film definitely gets a high nod for its gorgeous depiction of 18th century England that was glorious with hair feathers and hats, colorful dresses with intricate designs, and tasty wines and addictive gambling. Indeed, the costumes and stage design definitely deserves the Oscar buzz it’s been greeting. Of course, such shallow depiction won’t save the film from harsh critics, and thankfully, the film managed to pull some strings and notable performances that in the end saved it from mediocrity. Kira Knightley’s presentation of 18th century English aristocrat is certainly believable but there are few moments where we couldn’t even generate some sympathy toward her character. Alas, this is not to say that her depiction was off, in fact it was excellent, but perhaps witnessing her next to Ralph Fiennes might be the problem, because he certainly commanded the whole film with a certain, few amount of scenes and sentences; his movements alone can formulates the script with ease. The story, unfortunately, is slightly predictable and uninspired; I’ll be amazed if someone named the film “original” or “extraordinary”. This might have been avoided if the newcomer director Saul Dibb focused on the political life of Georgiana a little more instead of heavily focusing on her love life. We can definitely detect this sentiment when the film comes to its finish and leaving us wanting for more. Thankfully also, the soundtrack was as engaging and moving as the high point of performances administered from the role players, and that alone can be incredibly satisfying.
Incomplete biography and sagging (although mostly great) performances might not make this film a royal treat, but witnessing the chemistry and the engagement between Knightley and Fiennes can alone make up for the price of the admission ticket. The life of The Duchess of Devonshire was modestly brought to life with an excellent showcase of costumes and décor that would certainly please most fashion enthusiasts. Fans of historical drama will cherish this movie, but probably not as long as they hoped for. Regardless, the film is delightful, rich, and thankfully not as preposterous as “The Other Boleyn Girl“, and thank God for that.
The Bottom Line