Keira Knightley is an actor to the costume-drama manner born, blessed with a bone structure made for vintage finery and a regal bearing that harkens back to a bygone age. She seems genetically predisposed to stroll down the well-lit halls of English country estates; you’d think the young star grew up in a corset. Still, such awfully slim shoulders shouldn’t be expected to carry the entire weight of Saul Dibb’s biopic about Georgiana Spencer, the duchess of Devonshire who went from social butterfly to tragic Ibsenesque heroine in record royal time. Her unhappiness is caused by her remote, reprehensible husband (Fiennes) and best friend Bess Foster (Atwell), who teaches Spencer the joys of noncommittal sapphic flirting—like Jell-O, there’s apparently always room for gratuitous titillation—before usurping her place in the marriage bed. For a while, the three enjoy a bitter Design for Living arrangement, until the duchess goes after her teen crush, future prime minister Charles Grey (Cooper). Bad move.
Knightley does the best she can to enliven such thin Masterpiece Theatre material, but eventually, the sheer emptiness of the pageantry wears her—and us—out. Only Fiennes comes out smelling like an English rose, turning the duke into one of his signature upper-crust reptiles. He deserves a sequel.
Cast and crew