I didn’t get around to seeing this at the cinema so was really looking forward to watching this when it came out on DVD. The Duchess has been surrounded by controversy given that Lady Diana Spencer, more commonly known as Princess Diana, was the descendant of the woman whose life the film is based on – Georgiana Spencer. The strapline used for the film, “there were three people in her marriage” echoes things which have been said about Lady Diana and her relationship with Prince Charles, which may or may not have been marred by his feelings for Camilla Parker-Bowles. Anyway, on with the film.
Controversy or not, I looked forward to this film because I enjoy history, period dramas and stately homes. The basic plot is thus: Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley) became Duchess of Devonshire on her marriage to the Duke (Ralph Fiennes). However, she soon realised that she’d married an incredibly cold man who only wanted her to provide him with a son and heir. He had no real interest in her at all. So Georgiana threw herself into her interests, fashion and politics, and despite her disappointing marriage she became a darling of the public, charming all those who met her. On befriending Lady Bess Foster, Georgiana is much happier; Bess is having a hard time with her husband and ends up moving in with the Devonshires. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Georgiana discovers that her husband is having an affair with Bess. The film follows events to a gentle conclusion.
Overall, this film was a disappointment. I know it’s based on true life so it would have to follow the real chain of events to some extent. For this reason, I was expecting much better of it. The plot itself is very dramatic and brings out in the viewer a great deal of sympathy for Georgiana. However, The Duchess lacked passion. For saying that Georgiana hid her woes behind a brave face at political rallies and fashion parades, Keira Knightley portrays a rather mild-mannered version of Georgiana. Rather than being elated when socialising and depressed when faced with reality at home, she is fairly constant all the way through. This is true of many other characters, not least Bess Foster, the Duke of Devonshire and Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper – of Mamma Mia fame. Everyone just seemed rather mediocre – even at the moments when you would expect the height of passion, it just wasn’t there which made it difficult to feel really involved in the film and fully enjoy it.
Also, I was disappointed with regards the stately homes. On visiting both Chatsworth House and Kedleston Hall round the time of the releases of the book and film, they were making a huge splash about being featured in the film – and yet they weren’t heavily shown. There was the occasional scene where the outsides of Kedleston and Chatsworth were shown, but not much. As a great deal of fuss was made about the floor of Kedleston Hall’s ballroom being looked after during filming, in the film it really wasn’t that big a deal. All of the focus was on Keira Knightley. The film did seem like an excuse for us to watch her pout and look sad. Other than that, there really was nothing remarkable about this. I will be interested to read the book now and search for the passion which I’m sure must have been there in the real life situation all those years ago.