Now Showing at: The Esquire, AMC Newport on the Levee, and Showcase Springdale
Review by: Larry Thomas
Seems there are a lot of “clone” movies lately. All the horror films have the same slash and gash repertoire. All the comedies have the same gags and situations. All the action films seem as if scenes could be interchanged with other movies and no one would notice.
This effort to copycat another films success even extends into the upscale, historical films. In the same vein as Becoming Jane, The Other Boleyn Girl and Brideshead Revisited comes The Duchess. It’s pretty to look at, and like most films in this genre, contains the requisite amount of big hair, bad hats, and very unhappy people.
Based on the life of the 18th century noblewoman Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, The Duchess tells the story of a vibrant young woman married off to a dour Duke who is much too old for her. She is a fashion plate and very popular in the circles of society. The Duke has married her to provide a male heir. As their life progresses, Georgiana produces only girls, to the displeasure of the Duke, who soon relegates her to being basically a live-in nanny, while he takes a live-in mistress. Needless to say Georgiana looks elsewhere for her passion and falls in love with a fiery young politician, which does nothing to enhance her unhappy home life.
If it sounds soapy, it is. The whole film plays out like a Masterpiece Theatre series, which isn’t necessarily all bad, since that PBS icon has turned out some wonderful stories. Keira Knightley is Georgiana, and gives it her best shot. It’s a decent performance, and given her high profile these days, and the bent of the Anglophiles in the Motion Picture Academy, she’s likely to get an Oscar nomination for this.
Ralph Fiennes is his usual dependable self as the emotionless, coldhearted Duke. Hayley Atwell plays his consort. In Brideshead Revisited, she was the best thing in the film. Here, she’s okay, but not memorable. Mamma Mia's Domenic Cooper is in over his head as the young politician. He’s needs more seasoning to be able to handles roles like this. The venerable British performer Charlotte Rampling is Knight’s mother, and as always, shines in her few brief scenes.
The film is ably directed by Saul Dibb, in his first major film assignment, and the film sports another impressive score by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman.
If the era and subject matter of The Duchess is your cup of tea, then quite likely you’ll find much to enjoy. Just don’t expect anything new or original.