Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Saul Dibb|
|Produced by||Michael Kuhn|
|Screenplay by||Jeffrey Hatcher|
Anders Thomas Jensen
|Based on||Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire|
by Amanda Foreman
|Music by||Rachel Portman|
|Edited by||Masahiro Hirakubo|
Magnolia Mae Films
|Distributed by||Pathe Distribution (UK/France)|
BIM Distribuzione (Italy)
Paramount Vantage (United States)
The Duchess is a 2008 British drama film directed by Saul Dibb. It is based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the late 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. It was released in September 2008 in the United Kingdom. The film received the Academy Award for Best Costume Design at the 81st ceremony in 2009. The film costumer was Michael O'Connor.
The young Georgiana is contracted in marriage to William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, with the expectation that she produce his male heir. Georgiana is quickly disillusioned by her husband, especially when Charlotte, a motherless child, comes to live with them while Georgiana is pregnant. William expects Georgiana to tolerate the presence of the child who turns out to be his own illegitimate offspring. He also suggests that she "practice mothering" on the young girl. When Georgiana gives birth to a girl, William is displeased. In his mind he has fulfilled his obligations to her as her husband but, by failing to provide him with a legitimate male heir, she has failed in her obligations as his wife.
Georgiana socializes with the young Lady Bess Foster at Bath and kindly invites her to live with them, since Bess has nowhere else to go. William has an affair with Bess, causing Georgiana to feel robbed of her only friend and betrayed by Bess. Bess explains to Georgiana that her motive is to regain her three sons (whom her husband has taken from her) and continues to live with them.
Georgiana starts an affair with Charles Grey. William is outraged when Georgiana suggests that since he has Bess, she should be allowed Charles as a distraction. William rapes Georgiana; a male child is the product. Bess encourages the affair between Georgiana and Charles after the birth of Georgiana's son. Soon, the whole of London society comes to know of Georgiana's affair. William threatens to end Charles' political career and to forbid Georgiana from seeing her children again if she does not end the relationship. After initially resisting, Georgiana ends her relationship with Grey but tells William that she is pregnant with Charles' child. She is sent to the countryside where she secretly gives birth to her daughter with Grey, Eliza Courtney, who is given to the Grey family to raise as Charles' niece.
Georgiana finds comfort in Bess' friendship during her time of giving birth to Eliza. Georgiana and William come to terms with one another and, along with Bess, continue their lives together.
The aftercredits reveal Georgiana secretly visits her daughter Eliza. Eliza goes on to name her own daughter Georgiana, after her mother. Charles later becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom under William IV. Before she dies, Georgiana gives permission for William and Bess to marry.
The Duchess was produced by British Qwerty Films and American Magnolia Mae Films, with financial support from BBC Films, French Pathé and Italian BIM Distribuzione. The film was shot at Twickenham Film Studios and on location at Chatsworth, Bath, Holkham Hall, Clandon Park, Kedleston Hall, Somerset House, King's College London and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
Regarding lead actress Keira Knightley, director Saul Dibb said The Duchess was "a chance to take a character from late childhood – she's married at 17 – into full adulthood, 10 years later." It was also a chance for Knightley to work with Ralph Fiennes, whom she regarded as one of her most accomplished co-stars to date; Dibb said, "When I said, 'We've got Ralph interested in playing the Duke', we both took a gulp and went, 'F---.' [sic] ... But I didn't for one second feel that she wasn't up to the task." Originally the film was to be directed by Susanne Bier.
Studio executives wanted to use digitally altered images of Keira Knightley in promotional materials. The alterations were specifically aimed at enlarging her breasts. Knightley objected to the alterations, and they were not used. The marketing campaign also drew criticism for its use of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was an indirect descendant of Georgiana's. The advertising used slogans such as "two women related by ancestry and united by destiny" and used "There were three people in her marriage," the latter being an almost identical copy of a famous quote that Diana, Princess of Wales uttered during her Panorama interview. Michael Hellicar of the Daily Mail stated that "the Diana link is being so heavily, and it has to be said, so cynically and crudely promoted."
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, criticised the marketing strategy too, saying, "They probably thought the only way to get the young popcorn-eating brigade to see the film was if they thought it was about Diana, but it wasn't necessary and they should never have done that. And the line 'united by destiny' is wrong. I don't think Georgiana actually died in a carriage crash."
The BBFC has classified the film as a 12A, citing the scene of implied marital rape, which is "delivered through Georgiana's screams of protest, heard from outside the bedroom door." The BBFC's PG rating allows implied sex as long as it is discreet and infrequent; the board decided that the scene in The Duchess is more than "discreet" or "implied". The film had its world premiere on 3 September 2008, in Leicester Square and was released nationwide in the United Kingdom on 5 September. 
The film received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 61% based on 168 reviews, with an average rating of 6.25/10. The site's consensus reads: "While The Duchess treads the now-familiar terrain of the corset-ripper, the costumes look great and Keira Knightley's performance is stellar in this subtly feminist, period drama."
Most reviewers highly praised Knightley and Fiennes' performances. Time Out London wrote: "[Saul Dibb] is also helped enormously by a mature, restrained portrayal from Knightley, a masterclass in passive aggression from Fiennes and a performance of tender seduction from Atwell." The Epoch Times writes, "Ralph Fiennes brings a human quality to [the Duke] by avoiding any intent, exaggeration or ill will" and "Keira Knightley's performance gains new depth – she not only perfectly portrays a witty and feminine Georgiana early in the film, but also a caring mother, and an abandoned woman later on. Also remarkable in this role is Knightley's ability to portray the strengths, weaknesses, and the internal hurdles of Georgiana, as well as her internal contemplation." Film Ireland writes "It is a slow movie but it is well acted with Knightley and Fiennes suited to their roles, especially Fiennes who gives a formidable and powerful performance." Cameron Bailey, the co-chair of the Toronto International Film Festival comments, "The Duchess Of Devonshire, with Keira Knightley, which is a beautiful film and she gives a really mature performance. You're seeing her really turn into something beyond the kind of pretty face that we've seen her do already so well. But she's actually a very serious actress and she's turning into a great, great performer."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote that "Dibb's movie looks good" but complained the film was "exasperatingly bland and slow-moving at all times" handing out a 2 of 5 star rating. However, Paul Hurley gave the film 8/10 and called The Duchess "an excellent new film" and states that "The Duchess stands a good chance of taking home some very big prizes at the end of the year".
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing, "I deeply enjoyed the film, but then I am an Anglophile. I imagine the behavior of the characters will seem exceedingly odd to some viewers. Well, it is."
|Awards ceremony||Award Category||Subject||Result|
|Academy Awards||Best Costume Design||Michael O'Connor||Won|
|Best Art Direction||Michael Carlin and Rebecca Alleway||Nominated|
|British Academy Film Awards||Best Costume Design||Michael O'Connor||Won|
|Best Make-Up and Hair||Daniel Phillips and Jan Archibald||Nominated|
|British Independent Film Awards||Best Actress||Keira Knightley||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Ralph Fiennes||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Hayley Atwell||Nominated|
|Best Technical Achievement||Michael O'Connor (Costume)||Nominated|
|London Film Critics' Circle||British Actor of the Year||Ralph Fiennes||Nominated|
|British Actress in a Supporting Role||Hayley Atwell||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actor||Ralph Fiennes||Nominated|
|People's Choice Awards||Favorite Actress||Keira Knightley||Nominated|
|Favorite Independent Movie||The Duchess||Nominated|
|Satellite Awards||Best Art Direction and Production Design||Karen Wakefield and Michael Carlin||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Gyula Pados||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Michael O'Connor||Won|