Directed by Saul Dibb
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: December 28, 2008
Review Date: December 15, 2008
The real-life story of an eighteenth century English duchess who struggles with the restrictions for women of the day makes for an involving and beautifully realized film in The Duchess. Not being familiar at all with the true story of this famed social trend-setter, I found myself completely surrendering to the sights, sounds, and social mores of the movie. There are moments when melodrama rears its head and spoils for a moment the masterfully controlled ambiance of the piece, but taken in toto, The Duchess is a fine costume drama.
Trapped in a loveless marriage with the philandering and boorish Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley), pursues friendships elsewhere establishing close attachments with Lady Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell), herself embroiled in a stale, stifling marriage, and with childhood crush and political maven Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Being at heart a social animal, Georgiana quickly becomes the trendsetter of the nation, but her involvement with Grey threatens to unravel her husband’s position and her own societal standing. Soon she finds herself having to make some incredibly difficult, potentially life-altering decisions.
Based on Amanda Foreman’s best-selling biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the screenplay by director Saul Dibb, Jeffrey Hatcher, and Anders Thomas Jensen does a fine job contrasting the matrimonial double standard which existed in England at the time: husbands could bed multiple partners and sire bastards almost without reproach while women were expected to remain silent and faithful without straying outside the bounds of their marriages no matter how unhappy they might be. The patriarchal society of the time gave husbands the ability to withhold children, home, even financial support from their wives if they so desired. Georgiana’s struggle with the status quo and her efforts to circumnavigate such unfair practices make for some intense scenes, and Dibb directs them alternately up close and at a distance where appropriate, allowing us to register the extreme emotions of the wife against the cold, aloofness of her husband in every possible visual combination. Mention is made during the film of the ongoing war for independence in the colonies and of the soon-to-occur French Revolution, but The Duchess is far more interested in the personal imbalances of the time rather than the wider spectacle of a world on the brink of change. Some may fault the film for not diving more deeply into these political waters, but I found the mix of the personal and the political just right.
Keira Knightley had already demonstrated her plucky self-reliance in Joe Wright's wonderful Pride and Prejudice, and she’s effective here, too, even though she seems a bit too girlish after giving birth to three children and aging over the course of the film. Ralph Fiennes is a past master at steely determination, and he proves it yet again here with a chilling portrayal of connubial indifference. Hayley Atwell gets some choice moments at playing a pawn between husband and wife, in love with both but with few viable alternatives. Dominic Cooper is less interesting as the future prime minister of England, though he and Knightley do make a dashing pair. It’s always wonderful seeing Charlotte Rampling, here playing Georgiana’s common sense mother, and Simon McBurney gets off a few choice bons mots as politician supreme Charles Fox.
The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 video transfer is quite beautifully delivered here. Flesh tones are marvelously presented, and sharpness is very good with lots of detail in close-ups, a lack of smearing in long shots, and with natural film grain to give it a very film-like appearance. There are momentary edge halos, but they aren’t especially damaging to the visual compositions, and the director’s command of interior lighting makes for some warmly lit scenes that are really appealing. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is very front centric with the surrounds virtually silent for large portions of the picture’s running time, apart from an occasional bit of seepage of music (a lovely score by Rachel Portman compliments the visuals) from the front channels. Obviously, the subwoofer is also not of much use for the audio mix of this film.
“How Far She Went …Making The Duchess” is a 22 ¾-minute documentary detailing the production of the movie. Director, cast, and crew members discuss the story of the real Georgiana, the locations used in shooting, the casting of the picture, and the softened make-up used to tone down the exaggerated face painting style of the period. This and the other two featurettes are all presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Georgiana in Her Own Words” is a 7-minute featurette with author Amanda Foreman and producer Gabrielle Tana taking a look at the Duchess’ actual letters which Foreman used in writing her biography.
The Costume Diary featurette finds costume designer Michael O’Connor discussing his work on Keira Knightley’s elaborate wardrobe for the movie. This feature runs 5 ½ minutes.
The disc contains previews for Revolutionary Road, Ghost Town, Eagle Eye, American Teen, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The Duchess is a very fine, very satisfying costume drama detailing a real-life story with pageantry and splendor that gets a very good video showcase on DVD. Recommended!