The Duchess **
Directed by Saul Dibb
Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Saul Dibb, based on the book by Amanda Foreman
Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
Ralph Fiennes as Duke of Devonshire
Charlotte Rampling as Lady Spencer
Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey
Hayley Atwell as Bess Foster
Simon McBurney as Charles Fox
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material.
It's September-the fall Oscar season is beginning, festivals are starting to spark in various parts of the country, and Keira Knightley is donning yet another corset and doing her infinite period piece. But much like ninety percent of the period piece dramas that are released every year, "The Duchess" is pretty looking and contains moments of gentle direction, but at the same time is overly melodramatic, dull, and yet another example of recycled romance.
Knightley fits these period dramas like a glove, but that doesn't mean that her persence is starting to become overbearing. I have to say, and I don't think that I'm the only one, but I'm sick of watching her in lavish dresses and having big hair. Even when she isn't a member of royality, I am simply bored of her in these period films. "Atonement," "Silk," "Pride and Prejudice". . . even the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films take place in the England of Old. Its becoming one note, and her chances of ever getting an Oscar is diminishing more and more through her obvious lack of range.
Here she plays Georgiana, whose young days of frolicking with her friends and her gentlemen callers is quickly taken away from her when she is engaged to the Duke of Devonshire. Her voice in government is quickly apparent, and she starts to advocate the political causes of the Whig Party. Her marriage is not as successful as her image. First the Duke introduces her to a six year old daughter that he had many years ago, and puts her in charge of her. Then Georgiana has two daughters of her own, neither one of them obviously the sought after son that the Duke needs as an heir. After that, the Duke begins to have an affair with Bess Foster, Georgiana's close friend. To top it off, Bess begins to live under the same roof as them, joining them for meals and other such activities. Depressed and alone, Georgiana begins and affair of her own with Charles Grey, a political leader of the Whig Party who has loved her since before her cursed marriage to the Duke.
Here we have yet another triangle of one dimensional and recycled characters draped in ridiculous melodrama. Much like the triangle in the western "Appaloosa," the triangle in this period film is made for the sake of drama and not for the sake of breathing life into these people. It's clear that the movie was made with the hope of winning some awards later in the year. It won't, except for a possible nomination when it comes to costume design and set creation. "The Duchess" is a nice film to look at, but that wears thin after the first twenty minutes.
The performances by the two leads Knightley and Fiennes are quite low-key and one note. Knightley has been in these situations before, and her character offers nothing new to the genre. She is playing a different version of about six roles that has had in the past, none of them original. Ralph Fiennes looks awkward here, and rather bored. His facial expressions during the silent wedding scene a few minutes into the film are somewhat laughable, as if he is very aware of the fact that he is acting-but the script doesn't offer much meat for him to chew on. After his rather masterful performance earlier in the year in "In Bruges," it was a shame to see him looking lost and confused.
And so this is a plea to Knightley-to show me the range that she could have, and that she has only mildly shown me in films like "The Jacket." And its a plea to the BBC, who continues to make these period dramas that offer nothing new, and are wearing thin each time I see one. "The Duchess" competes with "Brideshead Revisted" as the two 'old English' films of the year that were a massive disappointment-only this film had more things that could have gone wrong with it. And all of those things occur in this droll and dull romance.