Saturday, October 18, 2008

Movie Review: The Duchess

Caught a showing of "The Duchess" yesterday at Union Square with my friend, Cin. Although this wouldn't normally have been my choice, I do enjoy period pieces from time to time. And, as well, I do so much enjoy Keira Knightley! :)

As a whole, I really liked this movie. From what I would assume is a rather loose telling, "The Duchess" is based on the real life late-18th century Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish. In addition to being an outspoken political champion of the Whig party in England at the time, the Duchess became notorious in history for her rather sordid personal affairs. Not so much her own, but those of her husband, William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire. At a time when women of high society were valued more for their fertility and familial standing than for their conversation, Georgiana's marriage to the Duke is a loveless one. His only concern for her is the production of a male heir to carry on the family name.

Needless to say, the relationship between husband and wife quickly devolves into a union that is marriage in name only, with the Duke seeking his amorous trysts elsewhere most often than not. When Georgiana discovers her husband's dalliance she is naturally stunned, but chooses to turn a blind eye to the infraction and the many more which soon follow. Eventually the Duchess finds her own true love, but when the price of her illicit entanglements with a young up-and rising politico becomes too high to pay, she's forced to make a decision between love and duty that is in eerie alignment with the tragic modern day tale of Georgiana's famed descendant, Diana Princess of Wales.

Keira Knightley does an excellent job here of delivering a performance both lively and nuanced, conveying a wide range of emotions with deft mastery belying her young age. I think she's an actress who is truly beginning to shine in better and better roles as she ages. She was excellent in last year's "Atonement," and I can only hope this is a trend which continues.

Ralph Fiennes plays the cold yet flawed Duke to perfection, never going overboard with the material or the aristocratic affectation, but still able to somehow insert a humanity and--dare I say it--likability to a character that is very hard to connect with for modern audiences. I'm not much of a fan of his work, but Fiennes delivers big time here.

The supporting characters are typically proficient for the tasks of a lavish, expensive period piece. Save for the role of Georgiana's lover, played here by Dominic Cooper. Cin was very vocal about the man, providing in her uniquely feminine opinion that the actor was simply not "dashing" enough to believably play the role of male seducer. While not having the same perspective myself, I do admit that Cooper seemed oddly displaced amidst the likes of Knightley and Fiennes.

The story itself is serviceable and not utterly predictable the way a wholly fictional script would have been with the same premise. The fact that the movie is based on actual historical events is what makes this film shine, in my opinion. It gives that extra ounce of legitimacy that serves the narrative well even when the details dissolve into a soggy and insipid mess by the middle of the third act. Coupled with a rather abrupt ending, "The Duchess" doesn't quite deliver a well-rounded evening's entertainment, but I daresay it was worth the price of admission anyway.

As far as recent period pieces of this ilk go, "The Duchess" does not quite deliver the way Knightley's own version of "Pride and Prejudice" did a few years ago, but is a step above such uninspiring films as "Marie Antoinette" or the lavishly dull "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."


Rating: 7/10

6 comments:

cindy said...

okay, i'm planning on going to see this by myself tomorrow. i'll come back and read you review after i've seen it. you have *another* friend named cin? ;*)

David said...

Yup, I know weird, huh? I collect friends nicknamed "Cin" for some reason. :)

And I think you'll like this movie.

cindy said...

i agree wholeheartedly with your reveiw! it is like we are the same mind--only you used bigger words and wrote the better review. haha! and yes, the gray def seemed out of place to me, too. poor chap. i love fiennes as an actor. i also like knightely, tho i find her looking rather gaunt in the film. =O i enjoyed it!!

David said...

Oh good! I thought you would, too.

Yeah, that's my one criticism of Ms. Knightley -- eat a damn cheesburger or three! :)

Kim Kasch said...

Ohhh but I've eaten Ms. Knightley's share of the hamburgers, along with too many fries.

David Batista said...

Kim, LOL! That's too funny. :)

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