“I fear I’ve done some things in life too late… and others too early.”
Not a creed for the growing minions of our divorced population (though it probably should be), but a remarkably summative line from the new film The Duchess starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes. Knightley is Georgiana, a spirited young girl, who starts with a fairy tale ideal of how her life as a married woman will be, but soon learns the world (and especially her husband, Fiennes) isn’t ready for her brand of feminism. Knightley does an admirable job of charming the peripheral characters, as well as viewers, but she cannot seem to win the affections of her husband. As time passes, she no longer cares, and instead seeks solace in the arms of Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), a promising young politician.
Similar to 2008’s early The Other Boleyn Girl, the unfair world of male domination pushes both Georgiana and viewers to their breaking points. She suffers affair after affair and, “like a good wife,” doesn’t complain until her husband the Duke’s philandering betrays her closest trust.
(What an enlightened world we live in that now both husbands and wives can cheat on each other without fear of social suicide or literal execution! Times, they are a-changing!)
On a positive note, we do get the privilege of seeing Fiennes play a bastard again, something he does quite well. As cold and callous a creature, I don’t think I have seen this year, at least not on celluloid. It all makes for a compelling tale. Director Saul Dibb, in only his second theatrical feature, holds the performances together with the help of a very smart script from writers Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen that amuses, enlightens, and at times infuriates. Personally, I would have loved to see Georgiana choke the life out of her once-best-friend Bess, but then I am a vengeful horse’s ass.
Historical sets and wardrobe are two of the film’s biggest stars, and the production designers have done a phenomenal job in the rendering. Colors are strong, with a reddish-gold tint dominating the interior scenes, and lush green countryside the exterior. All of this comes packaged in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that is a good example of the growing industry standard for getting things right.
Presented in English, French, and Spanish, 5.1 tracks, The Duchess sounds strong and never noisy. Dialog levels play fine, which is good, because that’s about all the film has to offer audibly. However, there are a few good showoff scenes, such as Gray’s Whig Party political speech, and a couple of banquets that offer up a sense of the soundtrack’s regality. Still, don’t expect big things compared to what you’ll find from most mainstream entertainment.
How Far She Went: Making The Duchess – A 23-minute featurette with a tasty serving of historical information on the real Duchess.
(Whoa, real Duchess? Guess this is a true story, so they can’t just go off killing the characters that need it. Dibb, Hatcher, Jensen… you are forgiven.)
Back to the short: it’s a solid addition, but all too brief, brushing quickly past history and locations, both of which I find fascinating.
Georgiana In Her Own Words: Another captivating, though short, historical addition to the disc’s bonus content, we get to hear excerpts from the real Georgiana’s letters. At only 7 minutes, I wish we could have seen/heard more of this, but what is included… good, solid stuff!
Costume Diary: A 5-minute featurette to round out the release with costume designer Michael O’Connor offering insight to some of the odd, but contemporary choices made in creating a fashion “look” for the film – a nice addition for anyone with an interest in period costumes or costume design.
Gripes: No audio commentary, and only about 35 minutes of special features – come on, Paramount, you can do better than this.
As historical romantic dramas go, this one is as good as any. A lot of attention to the finer details of the period lends a helping hand to the viewer getting lost in the experience. Too bad we couldn’t see a little more murder here, as a couple of characters really need it, but Dibb brings it to an even-keeled conclusion that neither delights nor enrages. With a strong audiovisual performance and a smattering of worthwhile extras, The Duchess is sure to please fans of the genre… but virtually none of the vengeful bastards of the world.