Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Duchess

WORTH-IT: (Saul Dib) In 1774, 17-year-old Georgiana Spencer (Kiera Knightley) giddily agreed to marry the older, distinguished Duke of Devonshire (an unsettling Ralph Fiennes). Unlike many girls, whisked away by arranged marriages, she entered this union flattered and with big dreams. Unfortunately, the Duke shared, or cared for, none of those dreams, performing the marital duty and speaking none, proving this relationship would be nothing beyond an expected male heir. Heartbroken and frustrated, Georgiana, "G," refocuses her energy, becoming the fashion icon of her time, what was the very height of Britain's Georgian era, one rich with pop culture, decadence and political revolution. And The Duchess is complete with all the fantastic glitter that comes with these period pieces, winning an Oscar for costumes and matching all expectations for a 18th Century starlet. Dressed to the T, G finds her superfluous joy in gambling, partying and socializing, but ultimately cannot recover from the heartbreak she continually encounters. The Duke brings an illegitimate child for her to raise, he sleeps with a multitude of other women, and when after 6 years she had not managed to produce a male heir, they head to Bath for a "healing" vacation. Here, she meets Lady Elizabeth Foster, played subtly and heartily by Hayley Atwell, who shortly becomes G's best friend and confidant--encouraging her to live life sexually empowered, opening herself up for real love with a young rising politician, and old friend of G's, Charles Grey (the highly adorable Dominic Cooper). She helps capture a political fan base for him, at the same time capturing his heart, and vice versa. Knightley and Cooper maintain an unmatched chemistry, one reflecting innocent romance, true companionship and a beautiful love story. The Duchess isn't a happy ending or a flowery romance though; It is imprisonment, heavy expectations and the high price of a life-long contract. Although loved by everyone in England for her convivial aires and iconic lifestyle, behind closed doors she is a tragic soul and a wasted personality. Knightley captures utter heartbreak on her face, pulling an audience into her character's despair without question or persuasion at the slightest strain of her smile or within the smoky glare she can, on command, exude. The film at barest is light, although filled with heavy emotion and tragic hardship. It comes in the shadow of both Elizabeth and Marie Antoinette, but G's story is not one to be ignored, and competes just as fiercely.

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