The duchess

This film is the usual lavishly detailed historical romp through British history, and is therefore satisfying on that account for any connoisseur of the interiors and exteriors of historic stately homes, corsets, hoopskirts and knee-britches and servants underfoot everywhere. This time around the plot is not a Jane Austinish tale of romance and veiled aggression over the teacups, but a study of a personality – or rather several personalities, specifically the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, which sound a bit like a couple created for the express purpose of enlivening a Regency Romance, with a marriage so open that one could practically drive a coach and four through it, without risking harm to either party. She was Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightly in yet another corset), the golden girl of late 18th century British politics; beautiful, accomplished, well-born, adored by practically everyone who knew her, except her husband. The Duke was one of those grim, cold and emotionally-distant figures, devoted to duty, his social position and his dogs, in more or less that order – and yet as played by Ralph Fiennes, not entirely unsympathetic. The two of them eventually had a functioning marriage, as the 18th century aristocracy defined it – with the additional fillip that the Duke’s long-time mistress was her best friend, and the three of them lived companionably together for decades. This only goes to show that actual, documented historical reality is several times more improbable, dramatic and interesting than anything the most creative dramatist could make up. “The Duchess” shows the evolution of that marriage with a sharp eye for detail, and not a little sympathy for all concerned.

Of the extras included in this DVD, the most interesting are an examination of the Duchess’s own letters. She wrote frequently and to a wide array of correspondents. This feature also included a look at a number of contemporary portraits and drawings of her – alas, much more plump and vivacious than Keira Knightly. A look at the costuming was rather interesting also – not least for the insight that one particularly towering hairstyle proved almost unendurable to wear, over the long day shooting, for it was so heavy and awkward that Ms Knightly could hardly stand straight under it.

“The Duchess” is available December 27th, at Amazon and from other retail outlets.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book project “The Adelsverein Trilogy” in early December, and is also available through More about her books is at her website

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