DVD Review: The Duchess - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

DVD Review: The Duchess

Keira Knightley, left, plays Lady Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. Keira Knightley, left, plays Lady Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire.

02/13/2009

Nominated for two Oscars, the British period piece will likely lose to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in both categories of Art Direction and Costumes. But the film, which boasts flourishing colors and clothes, will certainly give the competition a run for its money.

On the DVD, there's a special feature that delves into the diary of the now Oscar-nominated costume designer, Michael O'Connor. There, you can learn how he came up with his stunning creations. Of the two Oscars, it's O'Connor who I believe has the best chance of winning.

It would actually be appropriate. The film itself, while it isn't about fashion, is about a woman who designs dresses. Make no mistake, though, this isn't Pret-a-Porter set in the 1700s.

Keira Knightley plays Lady Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. She becomes the Duchess after her mother, Lady Spencer, arranges her marriage to William, the Duke of Devonshire, played by Ralph Fiennes. Never do you see Georgiana at a sewing machine or with a pin and needle in her hand.

Instead, you see Georgiana step into the scene of various social events or high society parties, wearing very ornate and complicated frocks with even more ornate wigs of the fanciest feathers. She is her own runway model, and she is a very, pretty one at that.

In her day, she set the trends of what was in vogue. Her title as the empress of fashion was very well taken. Becoming wife to such a powerful man immediately thrust her into the limelight and into very influential, political circles.

It would be a harbinger to what would happen centuries later with her distant relative, Princess Diana, the late royal by marriage to Prince Charles of England. While Georgiana's end wasn't as tragic as Princess Diana's, there is much tragedy to it.

The first tragedy is Georgiana isn't allowed to marry for love. She marries for the prestige. Her true love is a young man of less importance named Charles Grey, played sexily dedicated by Dominic Cooper (The History Boys and Mamma Mia!).

There are many struggles that follow, but all of them stem from this first one. Georgiana realizes this immediately after her marriage when William will only have sex with her mechanically, as a matter of necessity, and never wants to talk to her.

He shows no interest, except creating a male heir. Even when Georgiana is in pain, all he cares about is his son. His Henry the 8th complex makes him cold and heartless.

Then, out of some Shakespearean tragedy, Georgiana witnesses a London play, which portends her down fall. Illegitimate children and secret as well as not-so-secret affairs abound, leading to one of the most heartbreaking separations on screen.

Another DVD special feature talks about how celebrity was used in politics back then and how the tabloid culture was very much alive in the 18th century. Obviously, one problem with celebrity, as it relates to tabloids, is the loss of privacy and in many ways the loss of freedom.

Early in the film, before the gravity of the situation pulls her down, Georgiana talks about freedom and how it should be absolute. It's ironic that over the course of the film we see her freedom erode away until she becomes the most well dressed prisoner in England.

When Georgiana tries to escape her societal prison, she's slapped down. Her husband scolds her as being a dreamer. Yes, she's free to walk and even run, but she's so contained that she only has her imagination as an outlet.

In the end, the movie is a damning look at the struggles of this woman, who on the surface looked like a doll, but, whose inner turmoil and strength to endure it were absolutely tear inducing.

Four Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, and thematic material
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.

 

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