Now, they may be technical Oscars. It's too soon to catapult Saul Dibb's exquisite period biopic into the Best Picture race, what with 20 or 30 award-hungry competitors left to screen over the next three months. But you can book Dibb's handsome picture for the craft categories -- costume, art direction, makeup, and set design. And if there's any justice in this industry, Duchess will score nods for Rachel Portman's elegant score and for leading lady Keira Knightley, who delivers the most mature, versatile, and devastating performance of her young career (can you believe she's only 23?)
Amanda Foreman's lovingly crafted biography of Georgiana Cavendish (Knightley) ascends to the screen with Duchess. As the story goes, in 1774, Georgiana entered an arranged marriage to the Duke of Devonshire (a cold, detached Ralph Fiennes) on the promise she'd bear a male heir. The relationship gradually resembled a slow and steady funeral procession, however, as Georgiana birthed consecutive daughters, the duke entertained various mistresses, and the pressures of life in the royal spotlight mounted.
The late Diana, Princess of Wales, happens to be a direct descendent of Georgiana, a fact Paramount Vantage's marketing department chooses to play up when selling this scandalous drama. It's understandable, as comparisons to Diana and Charles are within reach, but not blatant. Dibb portrays Georgiana as a fashion inspiration, a loving mother, and faithful spouse who often swooped in to smooth her husband's coarse communication skills -- especially politically, with regards to the Whig party.
Duchess could survive alone on fractured marriages and pregnancy pauses. But Georgiana lived a far more scandalous life, and while the film tones down her drinking and gambling addictions, it heats up with lesbian experimentation, bastard children, and countless other bedroom affairs. Georgiana finds a confidante in her contemporary, Lady Elizabeth "Bess" Foster (Hayley Atwell), but endures a slap in the face when the duke takes a liking to the lass. Meanwhile, Duchess explores the power of celebrity endorsement, as Georgiana uses her notoriety to promote the political cravings of her teen crush, Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).
Dibb has found talent at every step while crafting Duchess. Set decorator Rebecca Alleway and production designer Michael Carlin collaborate on lavish playgrounds of opulence for cinematographer Gyula Pados to shoot. I love the aristocratic score composed by Oscar-winner Portman (Emma). And there's heartbreak hiding in the corners of this film that will reduce you to tears once you're invested. Duchess satisfies those seeking not only a gorgeous period piece, but a meaty slice of royal history.
Pass the duchess on the left hand side.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 10th September 2008
Box Office USA: $13.8M
Distributed by: Paramount Vantage
Production compaines: Qwerty Films, Magnolia Mae Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 100 Rotten: 63
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Saul Dibb
Producer: Carolyn Marks-Blackwood, Francois Ivernel, Cameron McCracken
Starring: Keira Knightley as Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire, Ralph Fiennes as Duke of Devonshire, Aidan McArdle as Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Simon McBurney as Fox, Charlotte Rampling as Lady Spencer, Dominic Cooper as Grey, Hayley Atwell as Bess, Georgia King as Lady Teazle
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