Friday, October 10, 2008

The Duchess (Rhoades)

‘The Duchess’ Holds Court at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Long before Princess Diana, England had another royal beauty who captured the imagination of her countrymen – Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire. As a matter of fact, Princess Diana was a direct descendant of this glamorous 18th Century lady.

Now you can get a fascinating history lesson about “The Duchess,” thanks to a new film starring beautiful Keira Knightly that opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

Knightly is adept at playing in costume dramas. Among her film credits are “Pride and Prejudice,” “King Arthur,” and “Atonement” – not to mention that popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy. Her roles seem to hop, skip, and jump along historic timelines.
In “The Duchess” she plays a real-life royalty who was famous for her beauty and fashion, infamous for her gambling and love affairs. She was known as both a clever political manipulator and a darling of the common people.

Among Georgiana Spencer’s scandals was a doomed affair with Earl Grey (a British viscount, not the tea) and a ménage à trois with her husband and best friend.

Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient,” the “Harry Potter” films) portrays the randy husband, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire.

Hayley Atwell (“Brideshead Revisited”) plays her libidinous best friend, Lady Bess Foster.
Charlotte Rampling (“The Night Porter,” “Babylon A.D.”) is on hand as the matriarch, Lady Spencer.

One reviewer summed it up: “Keira Knightley squeezes into a corset again, and pulls off another worthy performance in this sumptuous and emotional period drama.”
This period piece was directed by Saul Dibb. Some thought him an odd choice, considering his last film was a crime drama called “Bullet Boy.”

Dibb disagrees. “If you think about the themes of both, they’re quite similar,” he counters. “Both films are about young people on the cusp of adulthood trying to find their freedom in a world that’s got everything planned for them.”

To be fair, one shouldn’t forget that Dibb directed a TV adaptation of the Alan Hollinghurst novel “The Line of Beauty,” a tale in the mode of “Brideshead Revisited.”

“The Duchess” is based on a bestselling biography by Amanda Foreman, a work that grew out of her doctoral thesis at Oxford (“The Political Life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1806”). As it happens, her father was the famed American screenwriter Carl Foreman, who was blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthyism era and moved to England to work.

“This story didn’t feel like it was in the Jane Austen realm, for instance, or the more safe and polite territory that some period dramas can operate in,” comments Dibb. “Maybe that’s because it’s about real events. In many ways, it felt like a feminist tragedy.”

Just like Princess Di’s.
[from Solares Hill]

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