Movie review: ‘The Duchess’ holds head high |

Movie review: ‘The Duchess’ holds head high

Special to the Daily

Oh, to be a woman in 18th Century England. Your most valued skill ” your only valuable skill, according to the Duke of Devonshire ” is your ability to produce male babies. Give it a try, girls. Let’s see what you’re worth.

Though she initially has a bit of trouble with successful breeding under these terms, Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightly) is the most desirable woman around … by most people’s standards.

“The Duchess,” is about as good a catch as you can get for a provocative glimpse of that day and age.

The film tells the sad-yet-inspiring story of Georgiana’s life as it is ordained by the court, specifically by the duke, who she marries at the naïve age of 17.

An upstanding young lady of the higher class, Georgiana is initially thrilled when her mother informs her that the duke would like to marry her. Literally overnight, however, her life transforms from that of a girl’s ” laughing and playing outdoor games with her friends ” to one of an aristocrat; cold and loveless.

Besides the dogs he coddles like offspring, the otherwise phlegmatic duke (Ralph Fiennes) cares about little else than siring an heir.

While Georgiana cannot draw any affection or respect from her new husband, it’s not long before the public grows to adore her, and she makes a couple of close friends within her social circle of astute politicians and gamblers.

Then she meets Bess (Hayley Atwell), another beautiful woman spurned by her husband. Through Bess, Georgiana’s path crosses that of Charles Grey, one of her young admirers, who, since his days of impressing Georgiana by competing in foot races against other boys his age, has become an aspiring politician, aiming for the post of Prime Minister. The Duchess’s life then takes a turn into scandal, betrayal, love, loss and endurance.

It’s not just coincidental that Georgiana’s life is reminiscent of another, more recent British woman of the court. Princess Diana was in fact, a direct descendant of Georgiana’s. Both women faced the challenge of juggling their personal convictions and big-hearted desires in the limited space of the public eye, while letting motherhood and love for their children take precedence.

While Diana never had to face the restrictions on female freedom that Georgiana endured in the 18th century, the fact that certain behavior was expected from and scrutinized by her peers allows one to see all kinds of parallels in the lives of these two women.

The subtle intensity of Georgiana’s relationships, specifically with her children, Bess and Grey, sweeps you up into the pain of her struggle and the majesty of her decisions as if she’s one of your good friends.

“The Duchess,” teaming with fantastic acting, costumes and setting, is a beautiful tale of friendship, motherhood, obligation and forced piety.

Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer based in Vail. Send comments about this review to

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