The Duchess

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The Duchess
If you’ve seen the posters for ‘The Duchess’, you’ll know that they recall the marital woes of another Spencer, Princess Diana, born two centuries after Georgiana (Keira Knightley), the young noble whose tempestuous marriage in 1774 to William, Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) is the subject of this intelligent and beautifully crafted Gainsborough-inspired costume drama from British director Saul Dibb.

Thankfully, the tagline – ‘There were three people in her marriage’ – is as far as the filmmakers are willing to push the analogy, but you can see where they’re coming from: Georgiana is a young, beautiful bride who marries into one of the country’s richest families and suffers domestic misery, while blossoming into a fashion icon and friend of the chattering classes. William is older, colder, a piercer of dreams who’s more loving to his dog than his wife and who openly introduces a mistress (Hayley Atwell) into his household. The parallels are there to play with – at a stretch, you could even pitch Georgiana’s friendship with the playwright Sheridan (Aidan McArdle) against Diana’s later flirtation with the entertainment world – but, thankfully, Dibb and co-writers Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen play no such games.

One of the strengths of ‘The Duchess’ is its intimate, unashamed embrace of its story’s here-and-now. We’re not expected to impose twenty-first century ideals of marriage on Georgiana and William, rather to empathise with their situation while considering  contemporary ideas of personal freedom. It’s a theme that’s reflected in the Whig element of the story: the couple are seen to be good friends of socialite politician Charles James Fox (a reliably conspiratorial Simon McBurney), who indulges Georgiana’s forthright views on liberty. Of course, this is still costume drama, with all its attendant wigs and frocks and stately camerawork, but Dibb pays as much, if not more, attention to the private stresses of the bedroom as he does to the public rituals of dinners and balls. He’s also helped enormously by a mature, restrained portrayal from Knightley, a masterclass in passive aggression from Fiennes and a performance of tender seduction from Atwell.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday September 5 2008
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Saul Dibb
Screenwriter: Saul Dibb, Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Keira Knightley
Ralph Fiennes
Dominic Cooper
Charlotte Rampling
Hayley Atwell

Average User Rating

4.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:29
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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I haven't read the book but watching the film I have to say it was the best period drama I have ever seen. Keira was very good and the costumes, acting and scenery were all brilliant. I was so moved I couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterwards, which for me is a sign of a very good movie. It makes you wonder how women in those times coped having to bottle it all up and how disgusting some men were allowed to be.

If only they had told the real story and not used so much artistic license, it could have been brilliant.

i think the film was good but i think that this is certainly not a 12/12a i found it way way too graphic why do they rate blood and killing so high in age and this soo low i'm defiantly not going to watch this film until im around 17 because i just cant watch that kind of stuff!!!

MOVIE OF THE YEAR -STRANGELY KEIRA WAS NEGLECTED AS WAS THE MOVIE -lie gran torino it is a farce that good cinema is just left out -i do not understand what bafta was thinking -lolz

throughly enjoyed every minute of it!!...very welll made movie..did justice to the book...both keira and ralph have done a marvellous job...!!!

keira and fiennes deserve oscars for sure if the oscars are still fair -but i doubt it very much

well thank god time out has more sense and sensibility than new yorker

i love keira -she rocks as a duchess or a pirate =u know nothing if you dont like her as duchess

helen -the newyorker critis is a wanker and you are a loser for quoting him on timeout -go do something better with your wasted life , who cares about pseudo critics and their queer tastes -and your coffee parties too-ha ha

A big gorgeous period piece with "dullness at the heart" as the New Yorker critic put it. I kept waiting for something really meaningful to happen. It never did.

Brilliant, to say the least. If Knightley doesn't take home an Oscar for her performance, she never will. The costumes were divine. One of the best attributes of the film was its pace. Often period pieces can drag on - The Duchess moved along nicely. Kudos to all involved.

Amazing. Keira Knightley plays an ambitious duchess alongside Dominic Cooper (who didn't break out into song and dance) and Ralph Fiennes (who was brilliant, by the way)


Costumes were glorious,I was sad when the film ended as I wanted the story to go on, and on. I was half way through the book when I saw the film, so now I am enjoying the last part. Many thanks to all involved in the making of this memorable film.

Ecellent film and would now very much like to read the book. Raph Fiennes was superb and thoroughly believable as were the rest of the cast. Costumes and scenery really made the film.

Some people would have read the book which was published to great acclaim a few years ago and clearly would have been disappointed with the film. That's always the case with book v film. However, this film was simply boring and did not do the subject matter any justice. The characters were (almost) all one-dimesnional and unconvincing. There was too much sex at the expense of much historical, cultural, sociological and political goings on. Of course there are always reasons for this not least the dumb and lucrative US market.

This film was shockingly bad, one of the worst I have seen in 2008. The film moves so quickly you never really get a real insight into the characters. Ralph Fiennes does a fine job actually, but Kiera Knightly is distinctly average. She hardly even fits into the clothing. Her voluptuous rival is a far more convincing woman of the period. Worse still is the treatment of the Duchess's lover, the politician. There is no substance to him at all, he is dull and uninteresting. He isn't even good looking. How am I meant to buy into the idea that she is in love with this man? Worse still, the composer has been allowed to ruin any other potentially good moments with his ridiculous and untasteful score which led me to wonder if he/she was taking the piss. Well they got away with it, the cheese was allowed to stand. I can't remember much else about the film. It wasn't memorable, but I do remember feeling miserable afterwards. There is nothing to enjoy, it's one depressing scenarrio after another. I'm not saying a film can't be sad. There are some beautiful films that depict such agonies. I just don't need to be whacked over the head repeatedly with one misery after another in such unrestrained fashion. It's a real shame because this film could have been so much better. Unfortunately though, this is pure dribble. Shocking.

Good artistic movie. So grand and tried to make the most real past(17th century). Costumes for the lady georgiana plot is adorable. nice to see the movie.

it is amusing to see a well made movie being analysed on the merits of keira alone by some sections of the critics as well as the audience,as if she alone was responsible for the movie or it's merits and flaws -this was definitely better than the rest of the current crop and i think it should be observed without keira being the object of discussion according to people's subjective liking of the poor little rich girl -i am sure she cannot please everyone as no one can - but she has been treated rather harshly by some lady critics and audience too-it's a real shame as she did portray a lady rather well -

i normally like these kind of films but this one didn't cut it for me. Kiera's acting was way ott, but rang true to her neurotic self. Prefered her in pirates of caribbean, The actress charlotte rampling was good though. mmm see it most definatly if its a rainy day and your bored.

saw the film last night - was bowled over . Thought Keira's performance outstanding - Fiennes as always gave a performance of such depth .... would watch it again

This film clearly hits the right emotional buttons for a number of female viewers, but if you're a chap or already have an understanding of social mores in C.18th England then you will find it dull dull dull I'm afraid.

Wonderful film. It was a very dark, honest look at the status of high class women 18th century women, and it showed that even aristocratic women weren't held in very high esteem. Keira Knightley was brilliant in this. I don't care what her detractors say. This was such a difficult role to have to play - going from a teenager to a wife and mother who is, basically, abused by her husband, having to play so many different emotions, reactions and realizations and she pulled it off brilliantly well. Especially those emotional scenes were heart-wrenching and she expressed them so well with the anguish in her eyes. She was radiant and absolutely believable even through her pain. It is really hard to believe that this girl is only 23. This is the kind of role, that actresses that are older than her would play. To take on such a complex, multifaceted, difficult role in her early twenties and succeed marvelously is quite simply amazing. Fiennes was fantastic , astonishing as always. His Duke was amazing. He was smart enough to play him as someone trapped in a situation that was caused by society's expectations of him and his title, and he was able to convey that he is suffering as well. Despite what he does to Georgiana, you can't help but feel somewhat sorry for him. Hayley Atwell was wonderful as well, as the woman who betrays her best friend, even though she wishes she didn't have to do so. She played these conflicting emotions very well. Over all, a very well made picture. Not your typical 18th century movie, but an actual study of the high class that shows even if you are rich and titled, you can be miserable.

im 13 and went to see this wiv my best mate and OMGSH....we were was the best movie ever!!it was soo good.

i think THE DUCHESS is one of the best movie of the year. both keria knightley and ralph fiennes are perfoect for the role they played. the contumes are STUNNING !!! i love it ...

i went to see this with my dad and i loved this movie ,it makes you think and also entertains you at the same time and i think keira looked very sexy and acted extremely well too .

This is an entirely watchable film ; beautiful locations, excellent acting, historically illuminating - and very enjoyable. The pace was perhaps a little too much the same throughout, but there were lots of intensely personal scenes balancing the scenes of social gatherings. The position of women made very clear. Overall I loved it.

Excellent, sensitive and witty depiction of life among the ruling classes in the second half of the eighteenth century. Brilliantly portrayal by the three principal actors. A great film.

Brilliant film did not want it to end. Fiennes and Knightley superb, film an deserves an oscar.

after a long time i saw a movie where i lost count of time as i was totally engrossed by the true characters and their realistic execution,keira has taken care to portray a very difficult role without making it look either a trollop or a sentimental victim but rather a woman who is spirited enough to fight but knows when she cannot win a lost war and she is compelling to watch in every frame ,fiennes is fascinating as the wilful,masochistic but pragmatic duke with a soft side,and the truth is presented so well as he glorifies in his bigamous relationship with 2 ladies right in the heart of london,this is a real revelation as it shows our social structure as regards sexuality has not changed in over 2 centuries and possibly neither will , the inevitable comparison between georgiana and diana is unmistakble and the fact they were both spencers is really quite surreal , but this is grand storytelling like KUBRICK'S BARRY LYNDON,infact the atmospheric lighting is created as in that masterpiece and the origonal locales are stunningly filmed , i loved the whole unique experience as it also works as an emotional drama as well as an intelligent look at sexual relationships , the part where the two women become understanding of each other as wife and mistress is tremendously touching too . i am really glad dave lavished so much praise on this movie as it deserves all of it and rightly so too,the best movie so far this year by any criteria .

I loved it. I'm a Keira Knightley fan anyway, but seeing this movie made me realise why. I thought she was fantastic throughout, and Ralph Fiennes was also amazing. I think everyone must see if - if you like a period drama and a good heartbreaking love story, go watch! Fantastic!

I thought the film was good, but would have liked more of the wit and a deeper look into the politics of the time and the characters of the people involved. I thought that Ralph Fiennes did a fantastic job portraying such a complicated and repressed character. Keira Knightly, as always, was full of intelligence and life. A very enjoyable film in my opinion, but would have liked a bit more depth. Maybe that's not easy to achieve in a couple of hours. But now I'm going to read the book.

Not very good at all. Rocknrolla or Bangkok Dangerous are much better and it's something you'll both enjoy. Both these film have a love story and parts that make you want to cry, but they also have a bit of action and are much, much better films! I'm serious. You won't like the dutchess, and he will hate it as well and then you won't speak to each other for 2 hours afterwards because you're mad you paid to see such a rubbish film. Do the right thing, Najwa

Beautiful to look at but the story is vacuous as it only focuses on Georgiana's love life instead of painting a thorough portrait of her character. What a shame.

Oh how i do love a good love story! This one had me in tears in the cinema. I just get so caught up in how lovely it all is. I went through 2 boxes of tissues. Haven't cried this much since Pretty Woman! I'm going back to see it with all the other ladies from my bridge club. Best film I've seen since Anne of Green Gables! Simply delightful!!

Another boring period drama with silly outfits and silly talking. Definately one for the chicks only. Not half as good as "Rocknrolla"

Any movie with Kiera Knightly, Ralph Fiennes and silly hats can't be any good! Save your money !