THE DUCHESS (Blu-ray Edition)
Paramount Pictures | 2008 | 110 mins | Rated PG-13 | Dec 27, 2008
Written by Brian Wylie

January 3, 2009

If you’ve seen one of Keira Knightley’s recent movies, The Duchess may seem rather familiar to you. In the previews, this film appears thoughtful and interesting as it peeks into the past life of the Duchess of Devonshire. It appears to be full of drama as it explores political duties versus heartfelt desires. Knowing the typical roles Keira Knightley plays, I knew what to expect of this film. My expectations for great acting on a mediocre story line were met. I wouldn’t label The Duchess “captivating,” as Mike Wilber of NBC News did, but it’s not a complete waste of time. The Duchess, like many of Knightley’s films proves to be one of drama and deceit with superior acting.

The Duchess brings old world political roles to life with intensity and mystique through its star lineup. Keira Knightley plays Georgiana Spencer the Duchess of Devhonshire, also known as the “Empress of Fashion.” In her teenage years Georgiana is filled with energy and life. She takes every opportunity to wager on various events and games for the fun of it. However, once her mother marries her off to the Duke of Devonshire, played by Ralph Fiennes, Georgiana realizes the Duke only desires marriage for the producing of an heir. This weakens her spirit, as she is shown little to no love from her husband. But shortly after she becomes the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana becomes the public’s sweetheart. She charms them with her wits and fashion and begins to use it politically.

Georgiana finally becomes pregnant and fails to deliver a son. At her husband’s dismay and frustration he cheats on Georgiana with multiple women in hopes to obtain a male heir. Georgiana becomes aware of this abominable behavior and the audience begins to see a significant change in Georgiana from happy to depressed. The only thing to distract Georgiana from her depression is her new girl friend Bess, played by Hayley Atwell. Georgiana asks the Duke if Bess can stay at their home since her husband threw her out and kept her three boys separated from her. The Duke approves and gets back Bess’s children for her. The boys come to stay at the Duke’s home, and the Duke begins to show them more attention than he shows his own three little girls.

During one of her political events, Georgiana runs into her teenage sweetheart, Charles Grey, played by Dominic Cooper. Georgiana and Charles catch up and soon realize their undying love for one another still exists and feels more unstoppable than ever. Georgiana returns to her home in England to find her husband and her best friend Bess have been sleeping together for a long period of time. Georgiana is more confused and hurt than she thought was possible. She attempts to throw Bess out of her home, but the Duke refuses because she’s his mistress.

In the mean time, Georgiana finds reasons to escape her home to go meet up with Charles Grey. During one of these meetings a child is conceived between Charles and Georgiana. Once the Duke finds out of her illegitimate pregnancy, he sends Georgiana and Bess off on “holiday,” to conceal the news from the public. When asked if she can resign from being the Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke declines and threatens to take away her children. So in the end, Georgiana sacrifices the love of her life in order to keep her children.

All in all, The Duchess is a typical Keira Knightley 18th century drama that left me with some serious déjà vu. It is an intelligent film with great acting, which is why I didn’t think it was all that bad. However, it wasn’t all that great either.

Filmmaking: 7
The storyline was definitely of no surprise to me. I wasn’t the least bit impressed as this has been done before with different characters. The entire story is about duty vs. desire during the 18th century in England. All the key players are accounted for. We have the intelligent and vivacious repressed wife, the antisocial heartless husband, the husband’s mistress who is also the wife’s best friend, and the wife’s true love. Yeah, we’ve seen this before.

However, the actors really did do a fabulous job of developing their characters and staying true to them. Sometimes in films like The Duchess, it’s easy to become over dramatic with the gaudy costumes and wigs. But I felt the actors kept it very true to life and true to history. I applaud them for that. I would have given this category a better score had I been surprised at some point in the film’s plot. But I could tell how it would all play out by simply looking at the cover. And that makes watching the movie pretty pointless.

Visuals: 9
The 1080p picture on the Blu-ray version of The Duchess was very crisp and clear and retains its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This film wasn’t adorned with CG animation or various high dollar special effects, but the picture was of excellent quality at all points in the movies, even during the darker scenes. The only complaint I have that pertains to this category is how beautiful Keira looks even under the Blu-Ray microscope. I didn’t know people actually existed with such a gorgeously flawless face. It’s just not fair! Blu-ray really shows off the detail in the costumes and hairstyles.

Sound: 8
I’m almost positive you wouldn’t choose to watch The Duchess for its sound effects. It’s not a blow ‘em up, shoot ‘em up type of film. But the sound remains of excellent quality like many other Blu-ray films. The Dolby True HD 5.1 mix does a great job of blending a wonderful orchestral soundtrack while keeping the dialogue understandable. There is also some great multi-channel seperation and some intricate sound effects, even if the entire experience is rather subdued.

Value: 3
The value of The Duchess is about the same as any other 18th century Knightley flick. It will be of greater value to someone who appreciates the historical reference as opposed to someone who likes a good drama. The special features for the Duchess include; Making The Duchess, Georgiana in Her Own Words, Costume Diary and more. To me the most interesting feature of them all is Georgiana in Her Own Words as it shows the actual letters to and from Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire back in the 18th century. It was very interesting to see how these letters helped develop the story line and characters. The big factor for the Blu-ray release is you are being asked to pay $10-15 more than the standard DVD for no extras or exclusive and not that much better quality.

Overall: 7.0
What The Duchess lacked in plot was made up for in the acting. Overall I felt The Duchess was another DVD I could add to my Keira Knightley 18th century drama collection I’m beginning to develop. I didn’t think it was terrible, but it wasn’t all that great either, and I most likely won’t watch it again, as it fails to make my list of favorites. Had there been more to the storyline and if it weren’t so depressing, I might want to watch it over again, but The Duchess as is today doesn’t tickle my fancy enough to replay it. I love Keira Knightley. I think she’s incredibly talented at what she does, but wish I could see her in a more uplifting film for once. Maybe next time.