The Duchess

I have mentioned mostly dismal offerings in the historical film category. Pretty-looking costume dramas without much of a brain, or, for that matter, a heart.

Yet I love a great historical movie (I have watched Barry Lyndon a few dozen times, always discovering something new to admire) and refuse to give up on the genre. These days I have pinned my hopes on the upcoming The Duchess, about the scandalous and fascinating Duchess of Devonshire, née Georgiana Spencer.

An early review by British film critic Dave Calhoun sounds enthusiastic: “While her marriage goes to pot,Georgiana cultivates a role for herself as political muse and celebrityclothes-horse, friend to both the adoring crowd and notables such as politicianCharles Fox and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan.”

If Mr. Calhoun is to be trusted, we should see Georgiana here not only as a fashion icon or a party to an unsavory ménage à trois, but also as a brilliant, vital woman deeply involved in the political and literaryscene of her time.

And director Saul Dibb assures us that, in spite of a tasteless trailer that tried to make a parallel between Georgiana and another Spencer lady, Diana, Princess of Wales, this film will be no cheap exploitation of the latter’s much publicized troubles. “In the making of the film we didn’t want to make any parallels whatsoever,” says Dibb. “It didn’t govern the shooting of the film or the performances – and I can guarantee that Diana’s name was never mentioned as a reference.”

I recommend the film website, which is a treat to explore. It contains, in addition to the usual trailers, photos and costumes, excerpts from Amanda Foreman‘s biography, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, which served as the inspiration for the screenplay. The book, not surprisingly, is being republished (shall we say repackaged?) under the new title The Duchess, with, of course, a picture from the film on the cover.

Ms. Foreman herself discusses Georgiana’s life in the Times (a link I owe to Ellen‘s 18th century Yahoo group). “First and foremost,” writes Amanda Foreman, “[Georgiana] hadreached for freedom and been irrevocably harmed in the attempt. Like anymodern woman, she had desperately wanted to feel fulfilled in all aspects ofher life — as an ambitious individual, a woman who loved and was loved inreturn, and as a caring mother. She learnt in the most agonising way thatthe equation is impossible.”

If the film earnestly explores these issues, it will be worthwhile. But then the real Georgiana deserved no less.

Release dates: September 5 in the UK, September 19 in the US

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6 Comments to “The Duchess”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    Me too, Elena, and welcome back! I will post my impressions on the book “as I go” later this week.

  2. Thank you for this timely post, Catherine, especially the link to the Vogue article. I am finally getting to read Amanda’s biography of the Duchess; I started to read it on the beach while on vacation and am enjoying it immensely.

  3. Catherine Delors says:

    Well, Ellen, we all hope so. I agree that the choice of Keira Knightley as Georgiana does not bode well, but we shall see…

    In the meantime, thanks to your recommendation, I have begun reading Amanda’s biography of Georgiana. So far I find it engrossing. It is in particular fascinating to see the societal differences, especially in the status of women, between England and pre-Revolutionary France

  4. Ellen Moody says:

    Just to say we may hope the film is better than the pre-publicity too. Blurbs, cover illustrations, trailers, pre-publicity writing is often aimed at garnering the widest audience and those willing to write or draw such things know that often what’s wanted is not to accurate about the work on hand.


  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Many thanks for stopping by, Amanda.

    Here is the link to the Vogue piece:

    A very personal and moving account. I am so glad I chose this Reynolds of Georgiana as a mother to illustrate this post!

  6. I have also written a piece for September Vogue which re-evaluates Georgiana and her relationship with her children. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realised certain aspects about her life. I think the film does achieve one thing very well – it shows the horrendous choice she was offered: love and happiness – or her children.

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