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DVD Review: The Duchess
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The Duchess
Directed by Saul Dibb
Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 27, 2008

Based on a true story, The Duchess is about desire, responsibility, and ultimately redemption. Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley of Pirates of the Caribbean), marries the Duke of Devonshire, a much older man, and all of her visions of love and marriage are quickly dispelled. The Duke (Ralph Fiennes of Harry Potter, and yes, he played Voldemort) approached his marriage as one of necessity, he needed to produce an heir and Georgiana would help him reach that goal. His desire turned into need and no thought was given to his future bride. His necessity determined her fate and little more was to be done or said about that. An interesting tenet is when Georgiana first learned of her upcoming nuptials. She was surprised and happy with the decision — surprised that the Duke had any interest in her and happy because she was told that love is found on first glances and impressions.

Responsibility plagues each of the characters differently and completely. Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell) is forced into an affair to save her children; Georgiana embraces her love-less marriage and turns away from her true love to save her children; and the Duke, well let’s just say that his responsibility is only unto himself as he finally sires an heir to his title. He answers to no one and dictates the lives of all around him. This is a testament to gender dynamics at the time.

Side note: gender dynamics did not entirely dictate the do’s and don’ts of the Duke, he does many abhorrent things that would speak to his despicable nature (I am repulsed by the Duke character, not because Ralph Fiennes is a horrible actor, but because, the Duke’s actions are just reprehensible.) There’s no getting away from being a disgusting person.

I will not give away the ending of the movie, but I will say the lead characters do go through a redemption process. Not everyone get’s their “just desserts” but the lives of Bess, the Duke, and Georgiana live out as they should.

I understand that The Duchess was ahead of her time in women’s rights and the political advancement of the Whig party. However, I believe her “greatness” should be more apparent in this film. If she was breaking down walls and furthering women’s stance in society and politics, there should be something to tell us “hey look what she is doing, she is very progressive and her actions are awesome.” If I did not know the political significance of this woman previously, I would just think that she made a few fashion-forward choices, made friends with some political figures and helped them campaign, and had a difficult life. So Mr. Hatcher and Mr. Jensesn, it would have been nice if you gave Mr. Dibb a little bit more to work with. Dibb, the director, did an excellent job with what was given to him, but, really, your subtlety was lost on the general audience (this excludes people familiar with 17th and 18th century European Women’s History).

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. I liked it because it was beautiful to watch. The costumes, scenery, and cinematography left little to be desired, but the actual meat of the movie did not follow through. I wanted more explanation and I wanted to be wowed more. I wanted the movie to make me want to watch it more than once to pick up little snippets I missed and enjoy my favorite scenes. There were no scenes that led me to tears or led me to extol Georgiana and her life’s work, but there was just enough to keep me entertained.

Special Features

I enjoy watching the special features on DVDs. But, the special features on this one leaves more to be desired. They are short and concise, but they are a bit boring. I love period pieces (Dangerous Liasions, The Affair of the Necklace, and Elizabeth are some of my favorite movies), but I am a believer in the theory if you don’t have anything extra special to add, leave the special features alone. Giving us filler does not really satisfy, it makes us a bit annoyed with the wasting of movie time.

How Far She Went”¦Making the Duchess

This feature focuses on the history of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. I will admit this feature bored me. It was broken down into neat little parts, but, after seeing two or three of them you don’t really want to see the rest.

Georgiana In Her Own Words

The Duchess of Devonshire wrote letters from her youth to adulthood and from there a book was written by Amanda Foreman titled Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. This book showed the growth of Georgiana into accepting her position and the responsibility that came with it as a member of the Duchy of a rich and powerful family.

Costume Diary

The costumes in this movie were wonderful. One can appreciate the difficulty of creating the masterpieces in this period piece even if they have never picked a needle and thread personally. Designed by Michael O’Connor, the costumes were “toned down so they did not distract from the story.” In the beginning of the movie Georgiana wore pale and light clothing and when we met Bess she wore dark and rich fabric. At the end of the movie, it is exactly the opposite, Bess wears light, and Georgiana wears dark. It is interesting that Michael O’Connor played with the color palette to display the change in power of these two women. Bravo! Another interesting tenet brought up in this feature is Georgiana was the first to wear large feathers/plumes in her caps. She introduced this fashion into the mainstream. A few scenes later we see all of the elite women wearing large and small derivatives of the new fashion fad that Georgiana created.

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