Directed by Saul Dibb, The Duchess is the second movie to which he has made a name for, including Bullet Boy. The Duchess is a change to his previous work, with a different tone and era. The performance and mise-en-scene are well formed, as well as the time and pace of the film. Dibb’s work with documentary helps to aid the film with a more realistic aesthetic, the film offers attentive, intimate moments that allows the audience for a more emotional journey to the 18th century.
The film is a period drama similar to that of Young Victoria and The Other Boleyn Girl. Set to be a chronicle of the life of 18th century lady Georgiana and her life after marrying the Duke of Devonshire. She soon becomes the sweetheart of London society, reliving her luxurious political and personal life with the glamour of 18th century society contrasting with the gloom and heartache of being The Duchess. The films mise-en-scene is based around the extravagant clothes, gambling, the parties and very tall hair. The films style takes on the true story of the Duchess of Devonshire, trying to remain as historically accurate to the writing and public image that she had formed. This allows for a more realistic interpretation on the Duchess’s life.
The film works in symbioses with the mise-en-scene and The Duchess’s emotional life with being a public figure. Keira Knightley’s performances as the duchess is gaudy, as a modern woman born in a time were women are not independent or have a free voice. She presents the constraints of being a trapped in an unloving marriage. Ralph Fiennes as the Duke adds the peculiar element to the relationship between the two. This helps to create the dramatic basis of the film, forming a captivating chemistry with the beautifully styled costumes and settings.
Additionally the performances of Lady Bess Foster by Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey, the two actors work as catalysts to the narrative allowing it to unravel, changing the dynamic of the film. In addition the mise-en-scene- setting’s used work to create a more historically accurate film. The sets used such as the Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, in the film it is Georgiana and the Duke’s home but in reality it is also the actual estate of the Dukes of Devonshire, where tourists can visit and experience the life they lead in that estate. I have done so and found it truly luxurious, showing costumes and rooms used in the film. Using the sets that the real Duke and Duchess visited and lived in helps the film have not only more historical accuracy but also it makes the film more enjoyable and realistic to the audience. This helps to make the film more enjoyable but also heightened the emotions of the characters, as they are set in their true environment playing a role of true pain and torment.
The cinematography by Gyula Pados known for Predators, works to magnify the raw emotions, such as the sexual encounters and rape scenes. The use of close-ups and pans make the audience watch the scenes pain to the point where the audience feels the need to look away, yet we are not allowed to, we are made to witness the pain and emotion that The Duchess goes through, subjected to a loveless marriage. In addition Gyula Pados uses framing to emotionally distance the characters, the distance between the characters during the film works to reflect the loneliness and confinement The Duchess feels.
Examples of this is in dining sequences where by the characters are purposely placed seats away from each other on a long table, using a long shot to further exaggerate this loneliness felt. The cinematography truly captures the emotions and extravagancy of the time. The music accompaniment was composed by Rachel Portman who is known for a romanticised melodies in films such as Choclat, the music fits symbiotically with the emotions and struggles the characters go through, the classical melody is sorrowful but also harmonious, fitting with Georgiana’s life.
The narrative follows the story of Georgiana; it follows not only her perspective but also moments of the Duke. The story slowly shows the mental decline and pressure of conformity put towards women of the time. It is a heart-breaking performance by Keira Knightly. The films genre is a period film and romance based on a true story, making for a gripping watch. However at times the film can be frustrating, as it is slow paced near the end, the film at times is bland with a lack of vulnerability and risk. The beautiful art direction by Karen Wakefield, set decoration by Rebecca Alleway and costume design Michael O’Connor known for his costume work on Harry Potter and The Chamber of secrets. The collaboration of all these departments as well as the performance allows for a visually stunning and entrancing narrative. The film does have a circular narrative as Georgiana’s children represent her freedom in the start of the film.
The film is overall an entrancing watch capturing the emotions of her story and the visual decadence of the time. However the film is not always accurate to the true story, embellishments made and actors put their own take to their roles. Though this is upsetting it does not hugely effect the overall process of the storytelling. To make up for the lack of accuracy on these two hhistoricalfigures is the efforts made in other micro aspects, such as mise-en-scene, that use the same costumes as the duchess would have worn, such as the feathers. These are real actualities that the Duchess did in her life that Knightly represents. In addition the cinematography has been thoroughly thought out to consider the relationships of the actors, and characters they were portraying. Making the overall cinematic approach to the characters emotions more acute to audience creating a more pleasurable watch.
The level of detail considered in making this film as accurate as possible, as well as emotional, is what makes this film worth watching for me, and hopefully you will find more of an emotional experience, reliving The Duchess’s life.