I’ve finally seen The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley as an influential woman of the 18th century, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. This movie didn’t get entirely enthusiastic reviews, and no, I didn’t love it either.
Still, it’s well worth watching just to see the costumes. They are fantastic. Scene after scene, I said to myself, “Wow, she looks beautiful.” I enjoyed the musical score, too.
But the problem with the movie is that it’s too beautiful. Yes, it is nice to see beautiful people in beautiful clothes on beautiful locations, but there’s also something sterile about it. The performances in this movie are good (I am a Keira Knightley fan), but the characters didn’t seem real to me.
The story is depressing, even dreary. The Duke treats Georgiana badly. She suffers, and sometimes rebels, with dignity while looking endlessly amazing. The focus is on her love life. Her involvement in politics is touched upon, but other interesting things about the real Georgiana — her novel-writing, her acquaintance with Marie Antoinette — are ignored.
The real Georgiana became addicted to gambling and drugs, but you’d hardly know it from this film. In one scene she stumbles around in a daze and accidentally sets her wig on fire, but the incident is unexplained. In the next scene a doctor announces that she’s pregnant, so maybe we’re meant to believe that setting your wig on fire is a symptom of pregnancy.
A better script would have helped. We’re supposed to decide that the chilly, abusive Duke isn’t totally bad, but we’re given little insight into his motives.
As for the casting… I disagree with people who criticize Keira Knightley’s weight (I’m stick-thin, too), but in this case I kept thinking she really was too wispy and modern-looking to play an 18th century beauty. She’s a good actress, but I never forgot I was looking at Keira Knightley and not Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Overall, a so-so movie with spectacular costumes.
To learn about the real Georgiana, I recommend Amanda Foreman’s excellent biography Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, on which this movie was based.