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The Duchess (2008)

The Duchess. Feature film. (2008, 110 mins) IMDB

...another English period piece based on real events...

I

came into to this film knowing nothing--my usual starting point. I clicked on its IMDB listing and saw it had won one Oscar and knew immediately what it was--costume design. I wasn't wrong. Another period piece from England complete with horses, candles, wigs, country estates and elaborate costumes. Lest we not forget people actually wore them, but then again people thought it was okay to enslave people.

It's 1774 in England. We get a glimpse into the lives of some of the top people of the country--the duke and duchess of Devonshire. We see nothing about the king or queen. Learn nothing about the servants or the everyday people except that they bow in the presence of the duke or duchess. The film is about this couple and a few people in their lives. If I recall correctly, none of the servants in their home says anything more then, "Your grace." This is not Upstairs, Downstairs.

The duke (Fiennes) meets with the mother of our hero of the story where they negotiate a marriage. He has everything he wants except an heir. With the marriage to the teenaged daughter, he'll get what he wants and within a few short strokes of the movie, we're off.

The daughter (Knightly) greets the news of her marriage with delight. It was a different time where marriage wasn't about love. (I suspected she'd protest, but didn't.) Marriage was about money and power. The duke had it. Her family had it. If the two married, it would stay in the family. The fact Georgina greets it with joy portends bad things to follow and I suppose that's one way of describing it.

The duke is a cold fish. He doesn't have a lot to say. He screws his wife in the hopes of getting an heir. He also screws some servants which does produce a child--Charlotte. The child is accepted into the home as an orphan and G takes care of her as if she were her mother. G gets a lesson in life.

Then G is pregnant. It's a girl. Disaster. While the duke isn't likeable, he isn't Henry VIII. The pressure is certainly on her.

Then we'll throw in a love interest for G. A Mr. Grey. They manage to get it on and she becomes pregnant. The duke tells her, her mother as well, to make a choice. Go off with Grey and live in poverty and never see your children, or, you can give up the child and stay here. She decides on the later. She goes away, has the child and gives it up to Grey's parents who raise it as if she were his sister. Such was the way.

There's clearly an attempt in this film to show the double standard of life for men and women. There's a scene where the duke is undressing the duchess and he asks her why women dress this way. Her reply: It's the only way women can show their creativity. They have no other options. They can't own property, they can't vote, what else can they do? Not much except produce babies and stay quiet.

She's not one to stay quite. Much is made of her notoriety except it doesn't comes across in the film. Not an easy thing to do but I suspect in a modern context she was probably as well known as Lady Diana.

There's the kicker. This film is based on real people. I thought it was fabricated like a Jane Austin novel, but nope. There was this duke and duchess and their love interests.

Posted 2009/05/08 at 20h41ET in Movie Commentary.

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