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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