Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Duchess

2008 period drama about the inimitable Georgina Duchess of Devonshire. It's the story of her life but more importantly the story of her marriage and motherhood and the story of the difficult choices a strong, independent woman had to make in 18th century English aristocracy. Towards the beginning of the flick she says, "you can't be partially free, you're either free or you're not." This basically sums up the conflict for Georgina, which of the various aspects of her life that are competing with her freedom does she value more than her freedom? Does she value any of them more? Factually, the Duchess is about a aristocratic young girl that is married into a royal, but loveless marriage with an older, powerful man. She is vastly beloved by the populace and called the Empress of Fashion. She uses her celebrity to promote the arts and various social causes and is fraught with scandal when she decides to follow her heart, which leads her away from her heartless marriage, when her husband has a scandalous affair with another member of aristocracy. Does this sound familiar? Replace Empress of Fashion with Princess of our Hearts and now who does it sound like? Well the similarities to the story of Diana, Princess of Wales, had to have been on the minds of the filmmakers as Diana is an actual descendant of Georgina. The two historical tales are eerily similar. And they both make for some good drama. This movie was great and very enjoyable to watch, but there's not much I can tell you to persuade toward or away from this sort of flick. After hearing the description alone either you aren't and never will be interested or you don't need to hear another word and are already in the car on the way to the movie rental store. As well you should be, this movie is one of the better flicks from this genre I've seen. The story and the themes are pretty typical for the genre, but everything else is above average. The visuals are truly amazing from the production design to the costumes and make-up and most especially the cinematography. The shots have a texture, layout and flow that is rivaled by few. It's really worth the price of admission. The performances are great as well. All of the supporting cast characters are nuanced and interesting. Keira Knightly starts off as a little cheeky and shallow, but by the end you can't take your eyes off her. The standout for me, though, is Ralph Fiennes, who plays Georgina's vile, idiot of a husband. His performance made this character less of the caricature that it could so easily have been and more of a subtle, effective character that felt 100% natural and fully realistic. For example, after an awful moment in Georgina's life, the cause of which was largely the Duke (Feinnes character) he enters the room where she's sitting alone. It takes him a good 20 seconds to decide where and how to sit. These little details don't seem like much, but think about it. If he was just some archetype villain he'd just stroll in with a sneer like a Disney villain but instead Fiennes has him walking in all awkward, however proud, and struggling not only with what to say after the terrible thing he's done, but where to even sit. There is a moment where his character says "you'll find that everything I do is for a specific purpose," and this line truly sums up Fiennes approach to his portrayal as well. In short, I've almost nothing bad to say about this flick but if you're not into a big costumey British period dramas, this isn't going to be your cup of tea.

Worth Watching

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