The Duchess Review
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When Keira Knightley arrived at Roy Thompson Hall for the Toronto International Film Festival gala for The Duchess, the crowd started screaming before I could even see who had stepped out of the car. The young actress seemed to float on air as she headed for the crowd to sign a few autographs before hitting the red carpet. There was a certain glow about her—and while you could probably credit that glow to a good makeup artist, I’d already seen the movie at early press screenings, so I saw it as the glow of an actress who’s finally coming into her own.

In The Duchess, Knightley gives a heart-breaking performance as the title character—Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. At a young age, Georgiana became engaged to the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), naďvely believing that the arrangement was built on the Duke’s love for her—instead of on deals and promises made by her mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling).

Georgiana quickly discovers that her marriage isn’t what she’d expected. Her husband spends more time with his dogs than with his wife—and it seems that her only purpose is to bear him a son. So as the fashionable young duchess quietly endures her husband’s infidelity and his growing contempt for her (and her inability to give birth to a son), she finds herself a hobby: politics.

When she reunites with her childhood friend, up-and-coming politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), she finally finds the love that she’s always dreamed of—but she knows that she’ll have to sacrifice everything in order to be with him.

As I watched The Duchess, I couldn’t help but compare it both to Knightley’s 2007 Golden Globe-winning drama, Atonement, and to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette—another costume drama about a famous wife. But, really, there’s just no comparison. While all three films are pretty to look at, The Duchess offers what neither of the other two did: a solid story. Sure, the parties are grand and the costumes are gorgeous—but, parties and dresses (and spectacular hairstyles) aside, The Duchess actually lets the audience get to know (and care about) the main character.

Knightley proves that she’s more than just a pretty young face through her subdued yet convincing portrayal of Georgiana. As the film progresses, you’ll watch her character change from the playful, naďve young woman to the lonely, betrayed wife. But instead of talking about it, she shows it—and you’ll see it all quite clearly in both her facial expressions and the way she carries herself. Knightley gives Georgiana surprising depth—so much so that you’ll find yourself captivated by the character and caught up in her story.

Meanwhile, Fiennes gives an appropriately flat performance as the apathetic and obstinate duke. He’s so cold and uncaring—without the slightest bit of consideration for anyone’s feelings but his own—that he’ll make you care even more for Georgiana (which, of course, is the whole point).

With its elegant design and its heart-breaking drama, The Duchess is everything that a costume drama should be: it’s devastatingly beautiful…and it’s beautifully devastating.

DVD Review:
For the DVD release of The Duchess, Paramount chose quality over quantity. The DVD’s special features are few and far between—in fact, there are only three—but after you watch (or rewatch) The Duchess, you’ll definitely want to check them out.

The disc’s six-part making-of feature covers everything from the locations (like Georgiana’s actual home in Chatsworth) to the outrageous hairstyles. It even talks a bit about the real Georgiana—about her use of celebrity for political gain as well as her reactions to the inevitable pressures that came with her fame. Those who are especially interested in the real Duchess of Devonshire will also want to continue on to Georgiana In Her Own Words, a feature that shows many of Georgiana’s actual letters—including one written in her own blood. And, finally, the disc also includes a costume diary, which discusses the costume department’s impressive attention to detail.

Though you won’t find a whole lot of special features on The Duchess DVD, you’re sure to find just what you’re looking for. Because after watching Keira Knightley portray this fascinating character, you’ll want to know more about her—and the features provide that extra information. They also offer a few other interesting details about the film—without going overboard with unnecessary filler—and that makes them well worth a few minutes of your time.

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