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JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: The Duchess

Welcome to a surprise meeting of the Risky Regencies JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB!

(Janet, I hope you feel better soon!!!)

Today we’re discussing the new movie THE DUCHESS.

Based on the Amanda Foreman biography of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, who lived from 1757 – 1806, THE DUCHESS tells her story from just before her marriage until several years in.

The movie is visually sumptuous, as these pictures show. (By the way, if you want to see any of the pictures bigger, you can just click on them!)

Here’s some useful background info on the movie itself:

DIRECTOR: Saul Dibb

SCREENPLAY: Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Saul Dibb

Jeffrey Hatcher, by the way, wrote the play and screenplay for the Restoration theatre drama STAGE BEAUTY, and co-wrote the screenplay for the Heath Ledger CASANOVA.

CAST:

Keira Knightley: Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire

Knightley, of course, played Lizzy Bennet in the recent film of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Ralph Fiennes: Duke of Devonshire

Charlotte Rampling: Lady Spencer

Dominic Cooper: Charles Grey

Cooper played Willoughby in the most recent TV version of SENSE & SENSIBILITY.

Hayley Atwell : Bess Foster

Atwell played Mary Crawford in the recent TV attempt at MANSFIELD PARK.

Simon McBurney: Charles Fox

Aidan McArdle: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

So…have you seen it?

If so, what did you think?

How did you like the script, the casting, the performances?

What did you think of the costumes and the stately homes?

All answers welcome!

Cara
Cara King, who wouldn’t mind living in Somerset House herself

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Megan Frampton
14 years ago

I haven’t seen it yet, I desperately want to, but haven’t found the time. In spite of myself, I really like Keira Knightley, and I’ve heard pretty good things about the movie.

It’d be worth seeing for the costumes alone, I think.

Cara King
14 years ago

The costumes were fabulous, Megan, but what I liked best were the settings! Somerset House stood in for Devonshire House in London, and there were a whole bunch of the most amazing stately homes, too — so dreamworthy!

Ah, let’s see…the locations included Holkham Hall, Chastworth, Osterley Park, and tons more, including the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (Todd spotted that one!)

Cara

Erastes
14 years ago

It was all so Disney-fied wasn’t it? Clean peasants, clean street, happy peasants, lighted rooms with no candles.

And as for size zero Georgiana? I don’t think so!

The costumes and settings were amazing but – apart from Fiennes – the performances were lacking -Knightley simply can’t carry a part like that.

And let’s not get me started on the “let’s stick a lesbian scene in, just to please the blokes who have been dragged along to see this”

I’d rather have seen a much more realistic film, to be honest.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Funny, I just got back from seeing the film. It was better than I expected. I enjoyed the costumes and settings and thought the main characters were more well-rounded than I expected. Having read the book, I did notice elements that were simplified and/or exaggerated.

One major element of Georgiana’s life that was left out was her addiction to gambling and the resulting burden of debt. Maybe it was done to make her appear more the heroine and the Duke more the villain?

Erastes, there was gossip at the time that Georgiana and Bess had a lesbian affair. Some of their letters were censored so Foreman declines to make a definitive statement but considers it “possible.” So that scene didn’t come from nowhere though they gave it a different spin.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I enjoyed it far more than I expected I would! It looked lovely–I could have watched those Georgian party scenes all day. 🙂 And now I’m determined to have a big Georgian gown and wig for the Soiree next year.

“the performances were lacking -Knightley simply can’t carry a part like that.”

LOL! Differents strokes and all that. 🙂 I have to give in and admit I must be a Keira Knightley fan, despite everything. I always doubt she will be any good in parts (P&P, Atonement, this one) and then I always end up liking her. Sigh. I loved how evocative her expressions were in key scenes, like the slow surprise and delight as she listened to Grey’s speech, and the despair as she hands over her baby and then hears her cry in the distance.

One complaint I had (which I almost always have in period movies) is the way people walk. They do the swaying, head-bobbly model walk which I wish someone would tell them to stop. (see also “Marie Antoinette” and Gwyneth Paltrow in “Emma,” though she got a bit better in “Shakespeare in Love”)

As history–eh. Not so great. I’ve given up expecting movies to be strictly accurate to the actual historical facts, because they almost never are. I guess they aren’t meant to be documentaries anyway. So I always think–does it tell a good story? Does it evoke a time period? I think this one did both. So thumbs up. 🙂

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
14 years ago

Visually the movie was stunning. Despite the to-die-for clothing and settings, it made me very much appreciate the rights I have. Women, even rich aristocratic women (or maybe especially rich aristocratic women) did not control their own lives. Georgiana had much for which I envy her, and she found a certain contentment in her life and children, but the societal constraints were so very rigid.

I rather liked the brief f/f interaction — it was an example of a scene that was actually sexier because so much was hinted rather than shown.

And, if nothing else, I learned that her name was pronounced Georgiana, with a long A. I’d been pronouncing the next to last syllable as if it were Anna, with a short A.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

And, if nothing else, I learned that her name was pronounced Georgiana, with a long A. I’d been pronouncing the next to last syllable as if it were Anna, with a short A.

Here’s a bit from the Foreman’s book that I found interesting: “They (the Cavendish family) pronounced her name ‘George-aina’ (as in rain-a) as opposed to ‘George-i-ahna’. In her eagerness to be accepted Georgiana adopted all their mannerisms, vigorously applying the Cavendish drawl and insisting that everyone should call her ‘George-ayna’.”

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I hope to see it next week! I think I’ll love it for the costumes and setting, if nothing else!

Cara King
14 years ago

I definitely liked the film, though I didn’t leave the theatre raving with joy (except over the houses and costumes.) 🙂

I definitely think Keira K can act — I really like some of the work she’s done in Beckham, P&P, and Atonement. Here I thought she was mostly good, though I did think a more experienced actress might have been able to handle the “fifty scenes when Georgiana has to look miserable” problem — it’s hard to have fifty different ways of showing misery, and IMHO Keira K. ended up having similar expressions for many of them. (Though I agree that the scene over the baby was wonderfully done.)

And Ralph Fiennes was very interesting — his Duke almost always looked uncomfortable in some way, and extremely emotionally stunted…

BTW, I haven’t read much of the book, so I can’t comment on that, or what they left out! Except to say that, Elena, I do wonder if they originally had more about the gambling, but it got cut out for time… (They were clearly setting that up from the very beginning, with her playing cards with her mother and all…)

Cara

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

YES!!! Thank you to Cara and to the Academy for this honor to spout at length about my comments on this movie…

Best line in the movie that sums up the movie rather nicely: “I’m going to visit our friends in Bath. Bess can stay here in London to take care of our husband.”

The costumes, setting, and music…WOW! OMG! WOW!

I have a tremendous soft spot for Keira Knightly. I think she did a very good job.

My respect for Ralph Fiennes is now very high. Without seeming to move a muscle on his face, he was able to convey such a depth to his character. Forget the breath-stealing estate scenery, gorgeous costumes, and sweeping musical score. Fiennes dominated every scene he was in. Without resorting to a mustache-twirling villain caricature, he made his character, a man of his times and set in his ways, sympathetic.

His requirements of the marriage were an heir and no trouble. Her requirements were romance and love. She didn’t know how to temper the latter and was initially unable to produce the former. He was a cold, hard, promiscuous man who knew how to give orders and was accustomed to having his every desire fulfilled yesterday; his emotional feelings were reserved for his two hounds.

(I disliked The English Patient exceedingly and that colored my perspective of Fiennes’s and Kristin Scott Thomas’s acting abilities. I saw that movie for Juliette Binoche, who was marvelous.)

The movie follows only the tragic arc of Georgiana’s life, minimizing her Whig political interests and outspokenness, sexual shennanigans, her role as the fashion icon and a leader of the arts & literature salons, her inveterate and unrepentant gambling and drinking, and the love she showered on all her children. Tragic things happened to her, but she wasn’t the pitiable creature depicted in the film.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Ammanda wrote, “They do the swaying, head-bobbly model walk which I wish someone would tell them to stop.”

That is my only complaint about KeiraK in all her movies. She bounces with every step as well as hangs her arms down straight with her shoulders pulled back. It’s such an unattractive way to walk. She’s not a gangly teen anymore.

Cara King
14 years ago

Keira, I first saw Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, and I’ve adored him ever since. (I don’t actually recall what I thought of his performance in The English Patient!)

BTW, I saw him on stage once as Hamlet. (And though I’m exceedingly picky about Hamlets, I thought he was pretty good.) 🙂

Cara

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Having accustomed myself to the idea that even wealthy noblemen had to make do with those townhouses when staying in London, I was astounded (!!!!) by how vast Devonshire House is, as shown in the movie.

Cara King
14 years ago

Keira, I think that’s his dukeness showing. I mean, nowadays, there’s fabulously wealthy, and then there’s Bill Gates. I figure dukes were like Bill Gates, and most of our Regency heroes are simply fabulously wealthy. 🙂

And I expect some of it is age — Burlington House, for example, would probably have been sort of out of the heart of town when it was built — maybe even in the countryside. (I’d have to check to be sure.) So not so hard to have a big old place on a large lot — and the descendants get that large London place.

Anyway, I think that’s why some of us get annoyed at Regencies where the hero is a duke, and he seems to have one small country house and five servants or something like that… (Actually, Todd could comment more knowledgeably on this subject, because he read a whole book on dukes, and I only know the bits he told me.) 😉

Cara

Elena Greene
14 years ago

To me, eliminating the gambling issue altered the conflict between Georgiana and the Duke. In reality, I think the weight of her debts was what forced her to continue trying to produce an heir for him.

Cara, I don’t remember reading any books featuring dukes without grand estates. I have read some in which the responsibilities of land management and government don’t seem to be part of the package.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

I wrote a long blog post on this over at Scandalous Women. I think that if I hadn’t read the book, or knew nothing at all about Georgiana, I might have enjoyed it more. Although I thought the costumes and settings were lovely, at the heart of it, I found the movie sterile. It would take a 6 hour miniseries to do justice to Georgiana’s story and a more experienced actress such as Kate Winslet to portray her. It was just so simplistic, the relationship between the Duke, Georgiana and Bess, the lack of mention of her gambling and drug addiction, and the realities of her relationship with Charles Grey. The fact that he was 7 years younger, and came into her life, when she had pretty much given up on love. There was alot of telling and not a lot of showing, particularly in terms of her popularity and her political work. I did find the scene when she had to give up her daughter compelling, but it would have been so much more poignant if we had seen her return home and her son rejecting her because she had been gone for 2 years. Georgiana’s children were everything to her.

Therese Walsh
14 years ago

I loved how evocative her expressions were in key scenes, like the slow surprise and delight as she listened to Grey’s speech, and the despair as she hands over her baby and then hears her cry in the distance.

Same here. I had tears in my eyes as she turned her baby over to Mr. Grey. Her stark desperation as she shouted out to him, “Her name is Eliza!” was also affecting.

Gorgeous settings, costumes and actors aside, there was a haunting and unsettling quality about this movie that has made it stick with me. Though I have a teetering to-be-read pile, I’m tempted to read G’s full biography now.

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
14 years ago

Another point: I thought it ironic and rather sad that after all the fuss about producing an heir, said heir never married and the estate and title eventually passed on to a cousin.

And yet another: I agree with keira that Ralph Fiennes is a marvel, although, in the end, I did not find him sympathetic. The real duke was only 10 years older than Georgiana, so at 27 or thereabouts one would have hoped he would not be so rigid. OTOH, I found his character understable for someone so high in the economic and social hierarchy of the day. One complaint I have about the plethora of dukes in many romance novels is precisely that: they don’t act very duke-like. One reason I liked Jo Beverley’s “An Unsuitable Bride” is that Lucien at times embodied quite the imperious young duke-to-be.

PS Definitely try to see Fiennes in “Quiz Show”. It’s a very different film but I thought he was quite good.

Cara King
14 years ago

Oh yeah, Susan, I loved Quiz Show! And he does give a very interesting performance in it.

Cara, I don’t remember reading any books featuring dukes without grand estates.

Then you’re lucky, Elena. 🙂 I certainly have — I can remember one in particular, which I found bizarre. (I think he owned one smallish place, in an unfashionable county, and it was falling to rack and ruin, or some such thing…)

Cara

Elena Greene
14 years ago

That story does sound odd, Cara! I always thought the popularity of dukes was based on the prestige and wealth. I just like to see an awareness of the associated responsibilities as well as the beautiful grounds. 🙂

Todd
14 years ago

Well, I not only recognized the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, I also recognized Somerset House. It was sort of funny–they drive up to the courtyard of Somerset House, walk in through the front door, and they’re in Greenwich! 🙂 But that’s movies for you. Because there is so much filming in the LA area I’m constantly seeing things like that in movies and television. For instance, in the TV show Numb3rs they walk out of Doheny library at USC and find themselves on the Olive Walk at Caltech. 🙂

I liked the movie. And fun to see an era of really big hair. 🙂 I liked Keira Knightley pretty well, and I thought Ralph Fiennes was excellent. I’ve liked him in almost everything I’ve seen…the only exception I can think of is Maid in Manhattan, a film that should have been shot at birth and buried in an unmarked grave.

The visuals were amazing! And it did bring home that it is good to be a Duke. As Cara mentioned, I read a whole book about Dukes (Amazing Grace: The Great Days of Dukes, by E.S. Turner), and they were definitely a breed apart.

Todd-who-wouldn’t-mind-having-a-small-duchy-or-two

Janet Mullany
14 years ago

I loved the acting (both Fiennes and Knightley) but found it overall very disappointing. I wanted more EXCESS–outrageous clothes and massive fortunes lost at gambling, and I’m with Erastes on wanting more mess, although some of the lighting was extraordinary.

I felt the movie lacked structure,not surprising because it was based on an autobiography, so it just meandered to a stop.

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