Film Rec: The Duchess (2008)

I have a love/hate relationship with excellent film reviews. On the one hand, they are an absolute pleasure to read. Case in point: Ranylt Richildis' masterful review of The Duchess at Pajiba. The prose is excellent, the opinions thoughtful, and the critical analysis relevant. If more writers would approach reviews so thoughtfully, then general film criticism would be a far more wonderful place. The hate? That inevitably, I would be writing MY review, article, or blog post AFTER such a masterful review. A review published on a site I often use to generate traffic for my own projects. In order words: what chance do I have to live up to it. I don't. Thank goodness this site is about the writing. Film Rec: The Duchess (2008) Hey film fans! Do you enjoy smart, well written, historical cozies produced by the BBC? Then look no further than The Duchess for all of your never show a single thing happen on screen because that might be scandalous and we must maintain our integrity filmmaking.* The Duchess is adapted from Amanda Foreman's well reviewed biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I can't speak for it myself for I have not read it yet. It describes the life of a young woman married off to the Duke of Devonshire for the sole purpose of producing a male heir. Foreman's book apparently goes into great detail about Georgiana's drinking, gambling, and promiscuity, which is not the point of The Duchess. What the three-man team of screenwriters do with The Duchess is tell a story about the continuation of power and the balance between men and women. Georginia says early in the film that the only way women can express themselves is through their clothing, and answer the Duke approves of. Georginia pushes the limits of her power, eventually speaking for the benefit of her political party and using her fame to get her candidates elected to office. But The Duchess isn't really concerned with that, either. It's the domestic struggle of the wealthy. It's not new ground at all, though the writing is top notch. The confrontations between Georgiana and the Duke are very realistic. The whole film is surprisingly realistic for a period costume drama. There is no initial shock to get over about the elaborate garb, for the material, style, and design of the costuming feels like real clothing. The castle is decorated to within an inch of its life, but it doesn't seem gratuitious. All of this is added in to enhance the subtlety of the screenplay; the competition would be too great if the film relied on the excess of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antionette, as an example. While many are quick to point out how Georgiana's inproper behavior is glossed over, I do not believe this is true at all. There are many incidents in the film where a simple joke or comment points to the deeper problems in Georgiana's life. Perhaps even a greater illustration of her alcoholism and gambling is how she is rarely seen in the film without a glass or chips in her hand surrounded by men. When these issues come to the forefront, it's devastating. Honestly, I recommend seeing The Duchess if you like period films. This is one of the better ones for this historical period in recent years. The performances are all very good, the score marvelous to listen to, and some of the scenes will rip your heart out of your chest and make you reevaluate how powerful a simple twitch of a hand can be. *I view this as a marvelous method that never ceases to amaze me with its creative approach.

Labels: film rec