Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: The Duchess (2008)

It seems that in the past year, I've seen a lot of movies that take place in the Georgian era, which is great since I had seen very little movies from that era before and I do so love the fashion of that era! Between Amazing Grace, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mozart's Sister, The Kent Chronicles, Poldark, and now The Duchess, I finally have seen a number of films from one of my favorite fashion eras. We've actually owned The Duchess for a while now (my mom bought it at a low price on Amazon), but it was only recently that I got to watch it. I have seen pictures of it previously and thought the costuming looked good, but I did hear that there was some content with this movie. Off the bat, I want to warn you that this movie is not for children and that it has some mature scenes/themes (my review, on the other hand, doesn't get graphic as to the content), so if you do decided to watch this movie, just be ready to fast-forward.

Box Art
Based on historical events, The Duchess tells the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and her marriage to William Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire. At the age of seventeen, Georgiana marries the duke with hopes of a happy life with him, however she soon learns that the duke does not care for her and only wanted a male heir to inherit his title. Though she was in an unhappy marriage, she was loved by the people for her fashion sense. She was frequently involved in politics and helped a young politician by the name of Charles Grey, who she grows very fond of.

As you watch The Duchess, you may happen upon some familiar faces from other period dramas.

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Keira KnightleyGeorgiana, Duchess of DevonshirePride and Prejudice (2005) as Elizabeth Bennet
Charlotte RamplingLady SpencerGreat Expectations (1999) as Miss Havisham
Dominic CooperCharles GreySense and Sensibility (2008) as John Willoughby
Hayley AtwellLady Bess FosterMansfield Park (2007) as Mary Crawford

Keira Knightley as Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire
Now, as you might know, I'm not a big fan of Keira Knightley; yes, that does stem from the fact that she didn't do a good job with my favorite character in all of literature (Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice). But I thought she did a decent acting job in The Duchess, where she plays the title duchess, Georgiana Cavendish. Georgiana is portrayed as a sympathetic character. Though I could not condone many of her decisions, I did feel sorry for her and the situation that she was in. She was married to a man who did not love her and she suffered much in her marriage and not always by her fault. She didn't realize that her husband really did not love her or value her and that he was going to be unfaithful to her with her best friend, Lady Bess Foster. And to top it all off, her mother really didn't support her like she should have. I don't think it was right for Georgiana to get involved with Charles Grey, a politician she fell in love with, since that only added gasoline to the fire. But she did have her good qualities: she had great fashion sense and she was a doting mother who would not abandon her children.
Ralph Finnes as the duke

The duke was extremely dislikable. Almost from the first moment he appeared on the screen, I disliked him greatly. He was especially cold and cruel to Georgiana and showed more attention to his dogs. Hey, he was even rude to the politicians that he invited over for dinner. I felt like if he had been nicer to Georgiana that they wouldn't have had so many problems (and, yes, I know that this is a historical film and that he was probably a jerk in real life too, but he should have been nicer in real life).

Hayley Atwell as Bess Foster
I had mixed emotions about Lady Bess Foster. On one hand, she was under control of the duke because she wanted to see her sons that her separated husband would not let her see, but on the other hand, she got involved with the duke, her best friend's husband. Even though Georgiana wanted nothing to do with her anymore (and rightfully so, I might add), she still wanted to help Georgiana. But her behavior with the duke was unpardonable: she could have put a stop to it, but she didn't.

Georgiana marries the duke. Behind Georgiana is her mother,
Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling).
The movies starts in 1775 and ends sometime in the early 1790s. Since Georgiana becomes involved with some politics, she talks about the issues of the time such as slavery and American independence. 

The scenery is spectacular! From the lavish gardens that outdoor scenes take place in to the elegant homes, this movie definitely has some scenery eye candy. All the scenes are colorful and look splendid. Next to costuming and the music, the movie next succeeded in the wonderful scenery.

The Cavendish Family
In a word, gorgeous! Seriously, whoever was head of costuming for this movie should have gotten a bonus! Costumes ranged from the 1770s to the early 1790s and were very elaborate. Since Georgiana is "the empress of fashion", her gowns are always very rich, elaborate, and express the latest styles. Her hair also changed with the years: at the beginning, she had very high hair that was popular during the 1770s, and towards the end, she sported the hedgehog hairstyle that gained popularity in the 1780s. I did think some of the hedgehog hairstyles that she wore didn't look so great, but some of the others did. Georgiana's friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, also had some nice dresses on and pretty much followed the same styles as Georgiana.

I really like the soundtrack! The orchestra that did the pieces sounded very nice! The songs ranged in volume: some were very quiet while others were louder. The tone of the songs were also more serious than happy, but then it's not a happy storyline either so it fitted with the tone of the movie.

Overall: 3/5
Though the costumes and the music were a credit to this film, the story line is not a happy one and not one that anyone should try to emulate. Many of the characters make very bad decisions and there are no characters of moral high ground about. Yes, the events in the movie probably emulated real life events, but by no means should any of the characters be role models. Similarly to what I've said about Mozart's Sister, the costumes, music, and scenery were awesome, but the actual story line was not all that great; in other words, you may not want to watch this movie for the plot, but rather to see some great late Georgian wear, hear good music, and see lovely country houses and scenery.

Though the movie is rated PG-13 (that would be the cut version here in America), I would not recommend this to anyone unless they were older. There were quite a few adult scenes that I thought were more graphic for a PG-13 rating. Luckily, those scenes you can pretty much see coming and can be possible to skip without loosing too much of the story line. There is also some nudity in a couple of scenes and there is some suggestive dialogue that is blush-worthy. I think that some of the content should have been closer to R than PG-13.

The Duchess is available on DVD. It is rated PG-13 and runs for 109 minutes.

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