Movie Review: The Duchess

I realize that people without kids or those who have a regular babysitter for date night have likely seen this movie already but I just checked it out from our library last week and we watched it last night after the girls went to sleep. All I knew before it started is that it was based on a true story and it had Keira Knightley in it.

I first saw Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham and then Love Actually and if that doesn't show that she has some range then she showed that she can hold her own screen time with Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.

After the intro I then learned that whoever the woman we were going to learn about was she was an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales because the opening shot is of Althrop. Wikipedia confirms this. Turns out she was also an ancestor of Sarah, Duchess of York.

I found the movie fascinating. Maybe it's the women's studies major in me but this was one remarkable woman. Well, girl really. She was married on her 17th birthday and quickly found herself overwhelmed by her duties - both public and private. Ironically, she excels in the public realm and begins to make a name for herself helping political candidates, including a man whom she was fond of. Privately she's learning quickly that unless she produces a son she's not worth anything to her husband.

In order to help her conceive a son, after several miscarriages and the birth of 3 daughters, she and her husband go to Bath to take the treatments and there she meets Lady Elizabeth Foster and they become friends. The duke also likes Lady Foster and after Georgiana has invited Bess into their home when they move back to London the duke begins a relationship with Bess that continues until Georgiana's death, at which point the duke marries Bess. This, obviously, is not without problems in the relationship. Bess wants her children back from her husband and the duke is the most influential peer in England. G wants her husband to herself but most importantly she's mad that he stole her friend from her. When she proposes a deal that he can have Bess if she can have Charles Grey the duke forces himself on her. In the story she conceives her son from this time together and the duke rewards her handsomely.

At this point Georgiana has been married to the duke for 16 years. She's 33 years old. Bess is now part of her marriage as well, which obviously she didn't sign up for and G has no recourse. She cannot leave her husband because she has nowhere to go. She has no money of her own. We know from Bess's story that her husband had refused to let her see her children until the duke stepped in and brought them into his home. It probably helped that they were boys.

But women were chattle and their husbands could do as they wished. There is some great dialogue in the movie about freedom and whether it is absolute. G has some great comments! Georgiana continues on as she can and here is where Bess helps her out as only a woman can. She sends for Charles Grey and the two of them go to Bath together. This works wonderfully until the duke and G's mom confront her about it and remind her that if they know then it will soon become public knowledge and they will make sure she won't be able to see her kids again. She makes a valiant show of determination but in the end she returns home.

The kicker to this scene is that she's pregnant with Grey's child. The duke banishes her to the country until the child is born and makes arrangements for the child to return to Grey's family. This is interesting since there are so many kids in his house already - his child from a maid which G has been raising as her own since soon after her marriage, Bess's kids, and G's four children - but he will not allow her to keep Grey's child in their home because he knows that she loves Grey.

Some of the poignant moments are when we see her hand over the girl to Grey's family and Georgiana has named the girl Eliza, presumably after Bess. Somewhat a fitting tribute both to a friend and as a reminder of adultery perhaps. Later, G meets Charles Grey at a party and he mentions that he's engaged and that he has a new niece, Eliza, that he would very much like G to meet sometime. History shows, too, that Eliza named her daughter Georgiana. Wow, these girls have some spunk in them.

I'm sure there is more in the book than there is in the movie. There always is, but the movie is great. Visually stunning of course and with great added features. Take a look because this is a movie with so many layers that one time through won't catch them all. There's dialogue, there's attitude, and there's some great subtly and passion. Mostly though this is about a woman that made her mark on the world and for good or bad we should be aware of what she accomplished.

The Duchess


Post a Comment