Sunday, June 09, 2019
Based on the biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, The Duchess is the story of the life of Georgiana who gets to William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, as it leads to a troubled marriage as well as uncertainty into the role of her life where she’s expected to do so many things for her husband. Directed by Saul Dibb and screenplay by Dibb, Jeffrey Hatcher, and Anders Thomas Jensen, the film is a study of a woman’s role in British aristocracy as she tries to find friendship and love in that world that is restrictive as the character of Georgiana Cavendish is portrayed by Keira Knightley. Also starring Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, and Charlotte Rampling. The Duchess is a riveting and compelling film from Saul Dibb.
Set in the late 18th Century Great Britain, the film follows the life of Georgiana who is betrothed to the Duke of Devonshire in William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes) as her task is to give him a male heir and be his wife as she copes with the role she’s given as well as his affairs and her own feelings for an old friend. It’s a film that play into a woman trying to play a role but also come out of it to express her views and such but also her own desires in life. The film’s screenplay by Saul Dibb, Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen follow Georgiana’s life as the first act is about her friendship with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) and then being married to Cavendish and the role she’s playing as well as deal with the affairs he had with maids. Notably as one of those maids he slept with would borne a child named Charlotte whom Georgiana would care for along with her two daughters in Harryo and Little Georgiana six years after she and Cavendish are married much to Cavendish’s dismay that Georgiana hasn’t produced a male heir.
The script doesn’t just to play into Georgiana’s relationship with Cavendish but also her friendship with Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster (Hayley Atwell) who would be a closest ally though their friendship is briefly tarnished by Foster’s affair with Cavendish whom she’s fallen for and bargained with as Cavendish would get her three sons to live with them. It would also explore Georgiana’s relationship with Grey whom she sees as someone who share the same ideals of bringing change to Great Britain yet Cavendish’s position in power can undo all of Grey’s plans. For Georgiana, her marriage to Cavendish isn’t just one about power and status but also this air of importance that she had to play in royal and political society.
Dibb’s direction is largely straightforward yet it does have some element of style while the compositions also says a lot about what is happening without needing to say a word. Notably in scenes during a breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the dining room between Georgiana and Cavendish with Bess later being part of this triangle where Dibb’s wide shots would showcase not just this air of disconnect between Georgiana and Cavendish with the former trying to get to know the latter but also it would also later lead to tension between the two with Bess being in the middle either as a source of disdain from Georgiana or as a mediator between the two. Shot largely at Twickenham Film Studios with exterior locations shot on various locations in England, the film does play into a world that is quaint and reserved though disconnected from some of the realities of what was happening to Britain during that time. Notably as much of Dibb’s direction is shot in palace halls, dining halls, opera houses, and these posh venues while there a few scenes of the streets where Grey is doing a speech with Georgiana’s supporting by his side as he’s talking to the regular people.
Dibb’s direction also uses close-ups and medium shots to play into the interaction between characters including a scene of Bess showing Georgiana the art of seduction and pleasure as it relates to the latter’s feelings towards Grey. The close-ups also add to the anguish that Georgiana is facing during the film’s third act as it play into her love affair with Grey and what Cavendish threatens to do. Yet, it also play into the role she has to play publicly as there is a scene in the film that is shown off screen that even Bess is repulsed by what is happening. Dibb would maintain that role that Georgiana had to play and the sacrifices she makes but also to ensure that she at least she had some impact into Britain’s future while making peace with those in her life. Overall, Dibb crafts a ravishing film about the life of a young duchess and her journey of self-discovery and the role she had to play in late 18th Century British society.
Cinematographer Guyla Pados does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its natural usage of lights for the exteriors as well as candle lights and other low-key lighting for the interiors set at night. Editor Masahiro Hirakubo does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama as well as some nice matching cuts in some of the film’s compositions. Production designer Michael Carlin, with set decorator Rebecca Alleway and art director Karen Wakefield, does amazing work with the set design from the look of the rooms, dining halls, and many of the interiors as well as a few exterior sets including the town square where Grey speaks to the people. Costume designer Michael O’Connor does fantastic work with the costumes as the design of the dresses and men’s clothing is a major highlight of the film.
Hair designer Jan Archibald and makeup designer Daniel Phillips do terrific work with the design of the wigs and the lavish makeup for some of the parties that Georgiana host for the people in royal society. Special effects supervisor Mark Holt, along with visual effects supervisors Adam Gascoyne and Charlie Noble, does some fine work with some of the film’s minimal effects as it relates to a dramatic party scenes as well as a few scenes of exterior set dressing. Sound editor Catherine Hodgson does superb work with the film’s sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the parties as well as the sparse and uncomfortable silent moments in the film including a key scene off screen where the action is heard in a disturbing presentation. The film’s music by Rachel Portman is incredible for its lush orchestral score that play into the period with some themes that help define a few characters including its approach to the music of the times.
The casting by Lucy Beavan is great as it feature some notable small roles from Georgia King and Bruce Mackinnon as actors at a play that Georgiana, Cavendish, and Bess watch, Emily Jewell as a nanny, Richard McCabe as Sir James Hare, Sebastian Applewhite as Sir Augustus Clifford, Poppy Wigglesworth and Eva Hrela in their respective roles as the young and younger versions of Cavendish’s daughter Charlotte, Emily Cohen as Georgiana’s eldest daughter Harryo, and Mercy Fiennes Tiffin as Georgiana’s youngest daughter in Little G. Aidan McArdle and Simon McBurney are superb in their respective roles as political figures in Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Charles James Fox as two men who befriend Georgiana whom she engages in political and social discussions with as they also become political allies.
Charlotte Rampling is fantastic as Georgiana’s mother Countess Georgiana Spencer who reminds her daughter of the role she has to play but also sympathizes with the anguish that her daughter is dealing with. Dominic Cooper is excellent as Charles Grey as the future prime minister as a man whom Georgiana knew before her marriage as he is someone that is an idealist hoping to make some changes for Britain while having feelings for Georgiana leading to an affair that would bring trouble to his future possibilities. Hayley Atwell is brilliant as Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster as a woman that Georgiana meets as she would become her best friend until she falls for Cavendish as she later copes with her actions and what she had to do where she would later be the mediator between Georgiana and Cavendish as well as be the former’s closest confidant.
Ralph Fiennes is amazing as William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire as this royal official who is a complex individual as someone that is flawed and cold where he would do awful things to Georgiana but is someone who doesn’t like to show his emotions and his warmth to anyone believing it would make him vulnerable as it’s a remarkable performance from Fiennes. Finally, there’s Keira Knightley in a phenomenal performance as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire as this young woman who is forced into marriage for social reasons where Knightley displays an air of charisma and anguish into a woman who is forced to play a role for society but is also someone eager to say something for herself as it’s one of her finest performances to date.
The Duchess is a sensational film from Saul Dibb that features an incredible performance from Keira Knightley. Along with top-notch supporting performances from Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, and Charlotte Rampling plus amazing costumes, set designs, cinematography, and a fascinating screenplay that focuses on character study and themes of social and political behaviors. It’s a period film that explores a woman dealing with the role and obligations she has to fulfill only to find her own voice in the role she chooses to play. In the end, The Duchess is a spectacular film from Saul Dibb.
© thevoid99 2019