Skip therapy. See The Duchess
(opening Friday, September 19th) is not a feel-good film.
Based on the infamous Duchess of Devonshire, The Duchess zeros in on the soap opera storyline of her glorious rise and inevitable downward spiral. Keira Knightley takes her Oscar-nominated Pride and Prejudice
performance one massive headdress further as Georgiana Spencer (aka “G”)—the woman whose political prowess and party-girl style are adored by everyone but her husband, the stoic Duke William (Ralph Fiennes). Though G has a passionate affair with the charismatic, rising politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia!
), and is betrayed by her closest (and only) friend Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), it is the Duke’s extracurricular activities that drive Georgiana to break down.
is a feel-everything film—an emotional roller coaster that’s not for the faint of heart or funk of mood. In fact, the film evokes each and every one of the emotions necessary for a full-on catharsis: happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, contempt, and disgust. As an emergency therapy session, it rivals any bottle of wine.
Director Saul Dibb (Bullet Boy
) ably depicts a fairytale royalty world, but not even the amazing set design compares to the joy of seeing Georgiana with Charles Grey for the first time. Cooper would probably have chemistry with a rock, but Knightley covers rock every time. Surprise
Nothing should shock considering the film is true to Georgiana’s well-recorded story, but Dibb goes for emotional whiplash through scene sequence, pushing big falls up against some of the film’s happiest moments.
Anger come in many forms throughout the film, but is consistently rooted in frustrating injustice. As G’s mother famously reminds her, “You have no other options.” Tough life pill to swallow. That said, 95% of all anger in the film is directed toward The Duke.
The relationship between a mother and her child is one of, if not the, strongest bonds known to man, rivaled only by lovers torn asunder. This film has both, twice. Knightley, despite her boyish frame and 17-year-old face, is surprisingly convincing as an aging mother.
Contempt comes in the form of pure disdain for the Duke and how he seals Georgiana’s fate. In interviews, Knightley is quoted as saying neither she nor Fiennes wanted to paint anyone as the villain. They failed. The Duke is as Cruella De Vil as they come.
The audience’s disgust is divided among the Duke’s mistress Bess, Georgiana’s mother (the incomparable Charlotte Rampling), and really the whole of British monarch culture. They do nothing to help and everything to hurt the beloved G. The Duchess
packs more bang for the buck than a typical 50 minutes on the couch, though these days, a movie isn’t always cheaper than a co-pay.