| Keira Knightley stars in this period costume drama as Georgiana Spencer, who becomes the Duchess of Devonshire when she marries William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes) on the day before her 17th birthday.
Based on the biography written by Amanda Foreman, this superficial story has no substance and could have been titled "Bad Marriage" instead. It plays like an 18th-century soap opera with an arranged loveless marriage at the core.
The headstrong Georgiana is ordered around by her stern and emotionless husband like a slave and feels like a prisoner in her own house. Cavendish expects loyalty from her and the production of a male heir. He is a womanizer always on the prowl for his next conquest. He treats his two dogs better than his bride.
Georgiana invites her best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell), to come and live under their roof. Seeing the three of them at the same dinner table is the most unusual and bizarre sight of the entire movie.
The tagline of the movie is "there were three people in her marriage." Elizabeth soon becomes Cavendish’s mistress. She sacrifices her body to get back custody of her three boys. Georgiana often refers to Cavendish as "our husband" and tolerates the ménage-a-trois for many years.
Georgiana looks elsewhere for passion, love and sexual pleasure. She finds happiness with up-and-coming politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper from "Mamma Mia"). Grey later becomes prime minister.
Georgiana frequently seeks the advice of her mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling).
Dramatic emotional fireworks are unleashed when Georgiana finally voices her displeasure of being treated like a doormat to Cavendish.
Knightley puts on a fashion show with a new outfit in every frame. The movie’s strengths are the dresses, wigs, hats, jewelry and the ornate interior decor. The musical score by Rachel Portman elevates this melodrama.
Georgiana’s ability to draw large crowds and be the center of attention at any social gathering parallels the popularity of Princess Diana of Wales. Ironically, there is a blood relation by marriage between the two. Diana was a direct descendant of Cavendish, which makes Georgiana her great-great-great-great aunt.
This movie will bring to mind "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "Marie Antoinette." Fiennes gets all the best lines and upstages Knightley with the superior performance.
The movie nearly puts you to sleep as it proceeds at a very slow pace. The reliance on natural lighting causes some interior shots to come out very dark. Some of the rooms are sparsely furnished and the emptiness is evident in the pronounced sounds of footsteps on wooden floors.
The movie emphasizes the accepted double standard and the inequality of the sexes. Women are treated like chattel and men openly flaunt their adulterous affairs.
This quintessential chick flick is perfect for a ladies night out. Leave your men at home to watch a sporting event and avoid their complaints of boredom.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"