DIR: Saul Dibb • WRI: Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, Saul Dibb • PRO: Michael Kuhn, Gabrielle Tana, Alexandra Arlango, Colleen Woodcock • DOP: Gyula Pados• ED: Masahiro Hirakubo• DES Michael Carlin • CAST: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
Oh great, another period drama, but one that seems to hold out the promise of an Elizabethan ménage à trois. Which there is… sort of. More importantly, though, The Duchess is an exploration of the nasty patriarchy of the times, manifested in a loveless marriage and a live-in mistress.
Georgiana (Knightley) finds herself married off at a young age to the cold and controlling Duke (Ralph Fiennes). She quickly realises that she is nothing more then a baby machine with the sole task of popping out a male heir for the Duke. Seemingly only able to spawn girls, she finds the Duke growing ever more cold and distant, leaving her starved for attention and affection. To fill the void she becomes actively involved in politics and London society, which affords her the chance to rekindle a secret passion for the Whig Party’s rising star, Earl Grey (Domonic Cooper). She inevitably becomes a hit with the glitterati and socialites of the time, drawing the ire of her husband, whom she mocks with subtle rhetoric and politicking. Lacking any close friends or confidants she becomes acquainted with Bess, whom is also trapped in a loveless and violent marriage. However this faint glimmer of hope in her life is destroyed by the Duke who takes Bess as a live in mistress, while halting the advances of his wife towards Grey (Dominic Cooper).
It is a slow movie but it is well acted with Knightley and Fiennes suited to their roles, especially Fiennes who gives a formidable and powerful performance. While he is not on screen all that often, his dominating presence is felt in most scenes. Hayley Atwell is excellent as the conflicted Bess while the supporting cast fulfil their roles superbly. It might not be to everyone’s taste; fans of period drama will love it. However, if it is not your usual genre of choice then there is nothing to make it stand out as anything other than a well-acted, well-made movie.