This movie is a lock for a Best Costume Oscar nomination.
The Duchess is a Harlequin romance novel come to life. It's pure soap opera. It's a chick flick in period costume. It's not a movie I enjoyed very much.
It's purported to be based on a true story and it relates the married life of Georgiana, the English Duchess of Devonshire in the late 1700s. Georgiana's maiden name was Spencer, and a descendant of her brother was none other than Lady Di. Georgiana's husband, the Duke was a passionless man whose only purpose in getting married was to produce a male heir. He had many affairs, including one with Georgiana's best friend whom he eventually invites to live with them and the three of them end up sharing a home for many years.
Georgiana's attempts at having an affair were less successful, as the Duke did everything in his power to prevent them. Her one successful affair resulted in her pregnancy, the child of which the Duke forced her to give up. Despite her unorthodox personal life, the Duchess was the star of the Royal circle during her time. She used her popularity to support political causes and candidates. Apparently she was sort of the English Marie Antoinette, only without being beheaded.
This is the kind of movie that gets nominated for costume and art direction at the Oscars. And frankly that's about all this movie deserves to be nominated for, because while it does look good, I couldn't get invested emotionally in this movie at all, but then I don't read Harlequin novels either. To be fair, the costumes and art direction are impressive. Knightly in particular gets to parade a variety of fashionable outfits, including a long line of the most remarkable hats. Also, most of the movie takes place in palatial homes with drawing rooms larger than most homes today. If nothing else, the movie looks good.
I'm not a big Knightly fan, but she does play posh well. Fiennes is merely required to be stiff and English, something I think he could and probably does do in his sleep.
The big flaw in the plot of the movie is that the Duchess begins the movie naive and stays that way throughout the movie despite all of the things that happen to her. She knows her husband and has been married to him for many years and yet she still thinks that when she tells him about her lover he's just going to say, "Oh, okay, go ahead and sleep with him."? And when she gets pregnant by said lover and tells her husband, does she really think he's going to say, "Oh, okay, go ahead and have his baby."?
Clearly this movie is aimed at women as it's a female fantasy. All of the Duchess's problem are caused by a domineering man and her lover is devoted to and subservient to her. She is a loving mother, but never has to spend any time with the children when it isn't convenient and never gains the slightest weight despite giving birth so many times. And she gets to wear beautiful clothes and be waited on hand and foot.
The Duchess sounds like she was an interesting woman. A well-written script about her could make a good movie. This isn't that movie.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Vantage (2008)