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THE DUCHESS (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 9, 2009 by  



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“Outstanding performances by Knightley and Fiennes!  Passionate, beautiful and heartwrenching!”

Images courtesy of © 2008 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: THE DUCHESS

DURATION: 109 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color, 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 Dolby (TrueHD), Spanish/French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese

COMPANY:  BBC Films/Paramount Vantage/Paramount Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material)

Based on the Book “Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire” by Amanda Foreman

Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and Saul Dibb

Directed by Saul Dibb

Director of Photography: Gyula PAdos

Production Designer: Michael Carlin

Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo

Costume Designer: Michael O’Connor

Makeup Designer: Daniel Phillips

Hair Designer: Jan Archibald

Music: Rachel Portman

Produced by Gabrielle Tana, Michael Juhn

Executive Producers Carolyn Marks-Blackwood, Amanda Foreman, Christine Langan, David M. Thompson, Francois Ivernel, Cameron McCracken

Starring:

Kiera Knightley (as Georgianna, the Duchess of Devonshire)

Ralph Fiennes (as William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire)

Charlotte Rampling (Lady Spencer)

Dominic Cooper (as Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey)

Hayley Atwell (as Lady Elizabeth Foster)

Academy Award nominees Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes star in “The Duchess”: the compelling true story of a lavish world filled with smoldering passion, heartbreaking deception and stifling demands.  Beloved by a nation but betrayed by her husband, Georgiana Spencer – the Duchess of Devonshire and “Empress of Fashion”–faced an agonizing choice between responsibility and love.  The gropping portrayal of England’s “It Girl” has won acclaim from audiences and critics alike.  She was vivacious.  She was heroic.  She was “The Duchess”.

Beautiful, passionate and heartwrenching.  Easy words to describe “The Duchess” featuring outstanding performances by Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes in a true story of Georgianna Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire and her husband William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire.

Before the modern media frenzy covering the lives of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess and Wales or Sarah, Duchess of York and the men they were involved with in their lives, over 200 years ago, the story of Georgianna, the Duchess of Devonshire was the epitome of socialite, of high fashion to many.  But behind close doors, her life as the Duchess of Devonshire was not so pleasant.

Back in 1774, a 17-year-old Georgianna Spencer (Knightley) was chosen to be the wife of  the 5th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish (Fiennes).  For Georgianna, she thought that married life was to be happy and imagined her husband to be like her father.  Talkative, loving… but the Duke was not exactly that type of man.

In “The Duchess”, Duke William Cavendish was a cold, emotionless man.  Rarely did he talk to his wife, all he wanted her for is to give birth to a son to be the rightful heir.  For Georgianna, she learned that her husband was not a good man, a good lover and a good husband.  He slept with women, in fact, having an illegitimate daughter named Charlotte who Georgianna raised as one of her own.  And by the age of 24, having given birth to two girls, the Duke was getting restless.

In his mind, the marriage was an agreement that he gave her the lifestyle but in return she would give him a son.  And because she has not done that, she has been considered a bad wife according to the Duke.

While at a party, Georgianna watches her husband asking another woman to dance.  Her name is Lady Elizabeth Foster, wife of politician John Thomas Foster who she had separated from.  She had been living in lodges and unable to see her children.  Georgianna, feeling pity for her develops a strong friendship with Lady Elizabeth aka “Bess” and invites her to move into their home.

Meanwhile, at a party at the home, Georgianna comes across one of her good friends, Charles Grey (2nd Earl Grey).  Both of them have liked each other during their teens and Grey is now preparing himself to be a politician.  Grey has always loved Georgianna and Georgianna helps him get votes by making public appearances at his events and helping an old friend out.  But she realizes that their feelings from when they are teenagers continue to exist and realizes that Grey still thinks about her and has every day since she left to get married to the Duke.

But all is not well when she returns back home.  She finds out that the Duke has been having sex with Bess and to make things worse, the Duke wants Bess to live at their home permanently.  Not thrilled that her husband has taken her best friend away from her but now wanting to keep his mistress in the same home.  This devastation has driven Georgianna to her good friend Charles Grey, the only man who has truly loved her and she truly loves as well.

But what happens when the gossip papers (old tabloids) start to publish news of their affair.  Who will Georgianna choose?  A happy love life with the man she truly loves.  Or to live an unhappy life with the Duke and his mistress?  And how will the Duke respond to these rumors?

A complicated but yet well-written, well-paced film that clearly brings out the recreation of the late 1700’s and showcasing one of the most prominent women of England’s past.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

The video is presented in 1080p High Definition.  The picture quality looks great on Blu-ray and the beautiful scenery of that time period is captured well on camera.  I will say that there are many parts where lighting may have been an issue because the picture quality seems a bit flat at times.  But there are moments where you do get vibrant colors but not eye popping.  If anything, the video does have a good transfer.

As for audio, the film is featured in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and despite the film being primarily a dialogue-driven type of film, the shining moments audio-wise for the film is the use of music which effectively makes a scene come alive in certain areas of the film.  There is also a French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track included as well.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Duchess” has several special features included on the Blu-ray disc:

  • How Far She Went… Making “The Duchess” – Presented in HD, this featurette was exciting as it featured interviews with the cast, but also people on staff.  From making the hairstyle, the makeup, the clothing, finding locations to film the movie and much more.  A very well done featurette.
  • Georgianna in Her Own Words – Presented in HD is an interview with Amanda Foreman, author of “Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire” who reads a few letters that were written by Georgianna herself.
  • Costume Diary – Presented in HD, this featurette focuses on the fashion at the time and getting the costumes of that era look authentic in the film.
  • Trailers – Trailers for upcoming releases.

Surprisingly, there is no commentary.  It would have been a blast to hear the director talk about the film since there was so much put into it.  I would have loved to hear Amanda Foreman who wrote the original book talk about Georgianna but unfortunately there is no commentary.

“The Duchess” is such an incredible film that not only was it stylish and cool, passionate and sultry but also heartwrenching as you wonder if Georgianna’s life would be only filled with pain and will she ever find happiness. Keira Knightley was able to pull the character of Georgianna off by her ability to use her facial expressions to demonstrate fear, happiness and loathing.  Ralph Fiennes as Duke of Devonshire was also incredible as his portrayal of William Cavendish and his lack of emotion and cold demeanor were well done.  I’m confident that these two performances are award winning performances and would expect these two for consideration of Best Actress and Best Actor.  They both did a spectacular job!

The other talents did an outstanding job as well.  Charlotte Rampling as Georgianna’s mother Lady Spencer who played a mother who cared about her child but knows what is important when it comes to royalty and fulfilling obligations.  Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey, did a fantastic job of a man who is so in love with Georgianna and of course, Hayley Atwell.  I’ve been enamored of her acting since “Brideshead Revisited” and she does a great job portraying Lady Elizabeth.

But you can’t deny how beautiful this film was.  From the costume design, the wigs, the overall set of recreating the late 1700’s and to find locations that really enhances the film’s believability.  I was very much impressed by this film’s presentation and its acting.

But just to see the complexity of the situation the Duchess was put in and the way she lived her life, it’s hard to believe a woman has gone through so much but it’s all true.  She lived her life for her children, she lived her life with her husband and his mistress (and her friend) Lady Elizabeth along with her three children and yet having to be one of the more important women well-documented for her activities in political campaigns that would draw attention to a politician, her fashion sense which she was extremely popular for and also like women of today, because of her situation in life has gotten involved with alcohol, drugs and hardcore gambling.

As an American, I truly never understood how important Georgianna, the Duchess of York truly was.  I’ve always wondered previous to the film’s release why some viewers made comparisons to Lady Diana Spencer and Georgianna (Spencer) Cavendish.  Even I was surprised to find out side that Lady Diana was a descendant of Georgianna’s brother and to see the similarities of both lives fro two different time periods.

Two women from different times who have similar story in that they were women who had happiness or lack of happiness in their well-documented lives with their husband, having to be in the spotlight of tabloids, loving mother to their children, enjoying the fashion of their time and being involved with certain activities, I can see why there have  been comparisons.

I was even surprised to find out afterward how even Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York (ie. Fergie) was a descendant of the Duchess Georgianna as well.  Sarah Ferguson is the descendant of Eliza (the illegitimate daughter of Georgianna and Charles Grey).  And to learn also that the tea Earl Grey was named after Charles Grey and even his accomplishments as a Prime Minister during his lifetime.

As for the Blu-ray, the special features were quite informative but I wished there was commentary for such an elaborate film such as “The Duchess” but you do get informative special features and overall, this film was just enchanting, passionate and breathtaking but at the same time, heartwrenching.

From it’s beautiful presentation, it’s well-written story and it’s top tier talent, “The Duchess” is a fantastic film and it’s beauty captured well on Blu-ray!

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