Monday, September 29, 2008

A perfectly pleasant afternoon with the Duchess...

Three of us went to see The Duchess at the Arclight Hollywood yesterday and all thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe the movie actually opens nationwide from the 10th October, so we saw an advance screening).  
The Duchess Movie poster
I think we liked it so much in part, due to the fact that we are all Europeans and have all lived in the UK, so could appreciate the British people, places and architecture in the movie more (especially living in L.A. where the architecture is not the most inspiring).  

Good old BBC Films and Pathe Films for bringing this period drama to the big screen. This genre is not one I'm normally rushing to go see, but the trailer seemed inviting and the reviews glowing, so I thought why not.

Although Keira Knightley (of Atonement and Pirates of the Caribbean fame) is a good actress, she is quite overrated at times, but I found her genuinely engaging and convincing as the Duchess of Devonshire.

Back home in London, we actually live just around the corner from Chiswick House, which was one of the Duke of Devonshire's properties mentioned in the movie and we used to regularly go for walks around the house and its grounds (which they are currently renovating).

Movie costumes from The Duchess on display at Arclight Hollywood
Costumes from The Duchess movie
The film is based on true events and is quite a simple tale (by that I mean no assassination attempts or chases across the countryside on horseback), without being too staid or dull.

The glimpses of locations in Bath and elsewhere around Britain, plus the amazing stately home interiors helped to perfectly evoke 18th century England, plus the film's costumes (some of which are featured here) helped to convincingly tell the tale of the extravagant aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
The Duchess film costumes on display
(Spoiler alert: Don't read any further if you don't want major story and plot details about the movie!)

We follow her unhappy marriage to Ralph Fiennes' Duke of Devonshire, who only wants for her to bear him a son.  Unfortunately he doesn't love her and is constantly unfaithful, even when she provides him with two daughters, plus accepts a daughter he sired with one of his maids. 
Keira Knightley featured on The Duchess movie poster
Georgiana finds solace in a new friend, Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell from Brideshead Revisited), who betrays their friendship by sleeping with the Duke in order to use his position in society to reclaim her three sons from her estranged husband.  The Duchess becomes trapped by this unhappy and scandalous turn of events, when Bess becomes her husband's live-in mistress.
The Duchess movie costumes on display at Arclight Hollywood
To find escape from her loveless marriage she falls passionately in love with an ambitious politician, Charles Grey, (played by Dominic Cooper from Mamma Mia and The History Boys), who will one day be Prime Minister.

Unfortunately the hypocritical Duke does not want to share his wife with another man (he just wants to be able to have his cake and eat it), so forces the Georgiana to choose between her true love and her children.  The Duchess sacrifices her own personal happiness for the children she loves and to protect the her lover's place in society.  Although she drops the bombshell that she is pregnant by Charles.
The Duchess movie poster
In an emotionally charged performance and perfectly set in the dreary English countryside to mirror her inner turmoil, Georgiana has to devastatingly give up Grey's child to his family's care to prevent any further scandal.

I've never been that much of a fan of historical movies (preferring more futuristic genres), but I really did enjoy The Duchess.  It was well acted and I thought Hayley Atwell as Lady Bess had real presence on screen, whilst Dominic Cooper's star is rising, although Ralph Fiennes character is so unsympathetic it's hard to like him, so obviously he plays his role well.  

This sad tale of 18th century gentry was interesting and captivating, without being overly sensational.  I give it a very worthy three *** stars, but go see it and decide for yourself!

Fare thee well until tomorrow...

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