Overall, “The Duchess” is a good period biopic. The story is very engaging, and Keira Knightley is wonderful as the wronged wife, who is then torn between duty and her own secret love. She does a magnificent job of pulling sympathy from the audience. Ralph Fiennes, as her husband, the Duke of Devonshire, is equally good at being cold and hard, with just enough depth to make the viewer believe he is probably confident that he is doing the right thing.
The film was obviously very expensive, with huge, impressive sets, and lavish costumes. In this way, it is very beautiful to watch. However, while being a solid movie, it is not perfect. The ending is the main reason for this. Without giving it away, it can be said that the film does not end, it just stops. While it would be understandably difficult with a true story, where the real ending might not be especially powerful, it leaves the viewer with a flat feeling. After enjoying the entire film, at the end I almost asked myself, “And what was the point to all that?” simply because there didn’t seem to be a proper climax which culminated all the events. However, this being the only major artistic fault found with the film, is still a solid movie.
However, it must be noted that this film is definitely not for children. Sex is a prevailing theme throughout the story, whether it is Georgiana’s failure to conceive a son, the many affairs going on, or the numerous illegitimate children. While it is never actually shown, sex is unmistakably implied in several scenes. Also, the Duke forces Georgiana to sleep with him against her will, and there is brief nudity.
In addition to these possible deterrences, many of the characters’ actions are morally questionable. Besides the Duke’s philandering, Georgiana has an affair with Charles Grey, and SPOILER ALERT! POSSIBLE SPOILERS Bess Foster, Georgiana’s best friend, agrees to become the duke’s mistress in order to get her children back from her abusive husband. Neither Georgiana’s nor Bess’s actions are ever really condemned. The film seems to say that both of them were driven to their actions by the cruel men in their lives, and that – at least in the case of Bess – the end justifies the means.
The Duchess is a mixture of solid entertainment and questionable morals. As stated before, this is certainly not a film to bring children to, but for adults, it’s up to each individual whether the good outweighs the bad. If a story which almost completely revolves around sex, and has many dubious morals makes you uncomfortable, then this is definitely not the film for you. On the other hand, if this doesn’t bother you, then the film could be enjoyed as a well-made period piece.
The Duchess is rated PG-13 for Sexual Content, Brief Nudity, and Thematic Material.
Adrienne Frank is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she was homeschooled and developed an interest in film. She now resides in Ann Arbor, where she is pursuing careers in elementary education and filmmaking.