Director: Saul Dibb / Script: Saul Dibb (from book by Amanda Foreman) / DP: Gyula Pados / Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo / Music: Rachel Portman
Cast: Keira Knightley / Ralph Fiennes / Dominic Cooper / Charlotte Rampling / Hayley Attwell
Witness the Metamorphosis from iKeira to bastion of Brit Cinema.
Interiors. That’s what The Duchess offers us. Whether of palaces, courtyards or the mind, the camera isn’t denied. Keira Knightley plays Georgiana Spencer (a distant relative of Diana, Princess of all our hearts) who enters into a marriage with Fiennes’ Duke of Devonshire, one of England’s most eligible bachelors. Things don’t go well, for despite bearing him 2 daughters, not sons, she discovers the Duke philandering with the servants. They know their place, as she now does, it seems.
This revelation turns out to be a mere prelude to the main event however, as the Duke is then seduced by her BFF (Attwell’s impish Lady Bess Foster), only to then cohabit with the strumpet… No wonder that, 200+ years ago, such behaviour was beyond the pale.
But G has her own interest, in the person of rising Whig politician Charles Grey (Cooper); an interest that bears its own fruit, but compromises her in the process. No wonder that Amanda Foreman found her such a beguiling subject for a book. But we’re here for the film, so…
Director Saul Dibb co-wrote this screenplay with Foreman and followed the Period Drama Formula to the letter: sumptuous interiors shot on a tight budget, in a variety of rooms that probably needed little dressing thanks to accommodating trustees. Dibb composed with a keen eye into the bargain and allowed DoP Gyula Pados to linger over details. The resulting film, whilst not without its problems and occasionally thin characterisation, is a credit to the production and marked a turning-point in our perception of KN’s ability as an actress we could believe in… For in The Duchess, was writing that gave Knightley room to breathe as an actor; room that, arguably, she hadn’t enjoyed to that point (Tony Scott’s Domino, anyone?). That her foils in this piece, were more than a match, simply raised Knightley’s game.
Ralph Fiennes was deliciously droll, inert and as damaged by circumstance as anyone else here. The twinkle in Dominic Cooper’s eye is a giveaway to the fun he was having and as for Hayley Attwell, she’s channelling Glenn Close from Dangerous Liaisons; a high-wire act she pulls-off in style.
But The Duchess is Knightley’s show from soup to nuts and what a satisfying feast it turns out to be.
Please put out her Grace’s hair.