Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Duchess

Yay I'm In Another Period Film

The trailers had tried to market this as drawing some parallels to the late Princess of Wales Diana Spencer's life, given the subject matter being a lady of royal lineage being subjected to a loveless marriage which comes complete with affairs and scandals. It had even superimposed her portrait on the trailer to suggest a deja-vu of history, given that the story here is based on real people and presenting a dramatized snapshot of their lives. Until of course Keira Knightley had to stand up and say that this movie tells its own story without the need for such cheap promotional gimmick.

But frankly, the life of the Georgina, Duchesss of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) in late 18th century England, couldn't be anything less than similar in certain ways, if based on Amanda Foreman's biography which formed the basis for the film. At a young age and to the delight of her mother (Charlotte Rampling), the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) proposes a sealing of families through marriage, where his sole concern is to have a male heir. He wastes no time in impregnating his young wife, and treats her nothing more than a baby-producing factory, given a girl baby after girl baby, in addition to stillborns and miscarriages.

It's also a sign of the times where women have no rights, and are expected to perform their duty, of being a wife and mother, which also translates to having no say to what their husbands are doing. For the Duke, it means spending a lot more time with his dogs with no effort in communicating with a factory worker, and being the sex addict that he is, takes pleasure in bedding chambermaids within his castle, or even the Duchess' good friend Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), who succumbs to trading her body for powerful influences in order to see her children, taken away by her estranged husband.

As with most period dramas, it's a tussle between duty and love, and affairs of the heart. While the Duke's dalliances have taken a toil on his marriage, given that the Duchess one headstrong woman, we slowly see her relent and slide into resignation of her fate, but not before trying to perform a tit-for-tat with her lover, future Prime Minister Charles Grey. From the slate of movies in the period drama genre, it seems that such stories are becoming quite popular to be translated to the big screen, and I recall Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, who was betrothed in similar circumstances just across the English Channel, and share similar interests in game and fashion.

Keira Knightley stars in yet another period drama, and she's quite an old hand at it already, which no doubt translates to her delivering her best performance thus far in the genre. She presents the pain of living a lie quite convincingly, having to put on a front in public, while behind the scenes get surprise after surprise at the revelation of her husband's true character. Ralph Fiennes seemed to be quite stoic this time round with nary an emotion, and given he is Voldermort, has no difficulty in playing the bastard of a character, using his influence and power for his personal gratitude, making no negotiations to wanting things his way. In fact, one wonders men in high positions back then, could get away with a lot of things, and their wield of influence no doubt carries a lot of weight.

The Duchess doesn't present its themes in depth, and sought instead to have breadth in covering a broad range of topics, from social standing to England during the cusp of elections, and while it certainly has no lack of material to last its run time, it certainly hinges on its big name stars to carry the film on their collective shoulders. It's a very straight forward film, like watching the life and times of someone unfold in chronology, and those looking for some satisfying, compelling drama with deep tussles involving heart and soul, might want to look elsewhere instead. Nothing fancy here, but it works.

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