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The Duchess - historical drama DVD review
THE DUCHESS rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Actors: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
Director: Saul Dibb   Studio: Paramount
DVD release: 27 December 2008   Runtime: 109 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Subtitles (English, Spanish, French), Audio Tracks (Dolby Digital 5.1 - English, French, Spanish), How Far She Went.Making the Duchess; Georgiana in Her Own Words, Costume Diary, Theatrical Trailers

In this lavish period piece, sixteen-year-old Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley) is a frivolous girl, flirting with the young men in her circle, among them future prime minister Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), on her family's lush English estate. Meanwhile, her parents have arranged Georgiana's betrothal to the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes).

Schooled in the rigorous traditions of the 18th century, Georgiana harbors romantic notions of love and marriage, asking her mother (an impressive Charlotte Rampling), "The Duke of Devonshire, does he love me?" Georgiana's frivolous notions are quickly disabused on her wedding night, the duke making quick work of their first coupling. Indeed, he makes it clear that his only desire is a male heir, leaving his wife free to pursue her own interests once she has done her duty to his name.

In a remarkably consistent performance, Fiennes plays the arrogant duke to perfection, engaging in frequent extramarital dalliances, oblivious to his young wife's need for affection and companionship. Georgiana languishes in her husband's shadow, rising to the occasion when hosting his affairs, the gentlemen enchanted with the duchess's banter and wit, including Whig party leader Charles Fox (Simon McBurney), who finds Georgiana extraordinarily entertaining.

Unfortunately, Georgiana is unable to give her husband what he requires, producing only daughters, much to his disappointment and disgust. The duke grows ever more short-tempered with his beautiful wife. Whenever she dares challenge him, she is quickly brought in line by the duke and her mother, repeatedly scolded to assume her appropriate duties. Georgiana's brief rebellions come to naught, although she does make the acquaintance of a new female friend at Bath.

Sympathetic to the woman's marital woes and separation from her sons, Georgiana encourages the duke to welcome the lady into their home, innocently instigating a painful betrayal that eventually fuels her own brief break from the considerable restraints of her marriage. Georgiana is brought to heel, but not until she has paid a terrible price for her desperate self-indulgence.

Knightley handsomely captures Georgiana's bright innocence and bewilderment at the duke's heinous betrayal of trust. Alternating between pique and genuine dismay, Georgiana learns to adapt to a society that proscribes rigid restraints on females. Taking refuge in parties and balls, Georgiana regales all with her personality and penchant for outrageous styles. But all of this is window dressing for a young woman with a lively spirit who fails to provide her husband with an heir.

That his mistress and her friend can give him sons is a bitter pill indeed, but the ever-generous duchess rises above the pettiness of her surroundings, shaming others with her kindness. A brief attempt at love fails, Georgiana unable to forego her children, returning finally to the husband who has stolen her youth and happiness. The Duchess is a thoughtful and provocative look at the social mores of a country that enjoys women's beauty and charms but fails to appreciate their intelligence and abilities. In the end, Georgiana's fate is a tragic one.
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reviewed by Luan Gaines
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