Do you believe that every period drama is just another long and dull Jane Austen re-making with an updated cast as a twist? Most people do. You’d be a fool to think that way after watching Kiera Knightley’s new movie, The Duchess though. It captures beautifully the untold story of Britain’s most elegant and mistreated woman of the day, Georgiana Cavendish (more famously known as the Duchess of Devonshire) through the lenses of the reliable BBC films company.
Based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of the 18th century aristocrat titled “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”, the film reveals the hidden life of the rebellious and much loved Georgiana Cavendish. It chronicles her unhappy life of being married to the ill-suited and adulterous Duke William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes). It happens that after the fire of her whirlwind marriage subsided, Georgiana found herself in a terrible predicament. She could stay trapped in a three person relationship — the Duke had his mistress Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell) (who was once her once best friend) living with them — or she could lose her status and children if she chose to be with Charles Grey (the dashing Dominic Cooper), the only man she loved and who truly loved her back.
Full of passion, treachery and repeated devastation, The Duchess will break hearts and dampen many eyes. It strikes the perfect balance of tension and romance throughout, deftly captured by the lingering, wanting looks between Georgiana and Charles when they could not be together and by the many betrayals contrived by the Duke. Gluing it all together is the backdrop of the beautiful English countryside, the outstanding costume designs and the moving score by Rachel Portman. Knightley’s acting in yet another period-type piece didn’t fail to meet my high expectations. She plays the troubled, icon of fashion opposite Fiennes’ callous and cold role brilliantly, especially during the many nail-biting scenes. Also, who else nowadays can get away with wearing those Amy Winehouse-style wigs and look so good?
There isn’t much to smile about, as to be expected with a tragic love story starring Keira Knightley, but even so, The Duchess is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I found it had the soothing ability to whisk one away into an 18th century style, O.K. magazine for 2 hours (which I can tell you, is not a bad thing). There are slight similarities between this and the stories of The Other Boleyn Girl and Becoming Jane, but I felt that The Duchess did a good job separating itself from the pack. Screenplay writers Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and Saul Dibb (who also directed) offer a more complex story, driven with more emotion and class than most historical dramas of this day.
Because of this separation, my suggestions would be to see this and to take some extra tissues with you; this one’s a real tear-jerker.