Recently I had the amazing opportunity to meet the stars of The Duchess and hear all about the role sex plays in the movie, from the practicalities of filming sex scenes to the sexual politics of the period. Here's an excerpt of the Q+A with Keira Knightley (who plays the eponymous Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire), Dominic Cooper (who plays her extra-marital love interest, Earl Grey) and Hayley Atwell (who plays the third person in Georgiana's marriage, Bess Foster). Come back to PopSugar UK later in the week to see what else the gang had to say about the film, including the Diana connection. I'll also bring you my review before the film's release on 5 September.
Keira was wearing a black maxi dress with a pussy bow neck and beautiful ruffles, with her hair back and her fringe sweeping across her forehead. Dominic in his shirt and suit jacket looked as gorgeous as when he chatted about Mamma Mia!, and Hayley kept it crisp and stylish in a white shirt. Speaking of clothes...
What was it like to get in to the costumes?
KK — We had to be sewn in to some of them, which they would have actually been, sewn in and cut out.
DC — Which is very difficult in a moment of passion to undo at a rapid pace without looking ridiculous [laughter] Sorry!
KK — I can’t add anything after that!
To find out what Dominic wore in his sex scene, plus Keira and Hayley's thoughts about the sexual relationship between their characters, read more
Keira, the love scene with Dominic was pretty raunchy given that you keep your clothes on – is it more difficult or easier to do a sex scene without …
KK — … taking your clothes off? Hmm. I don’t know! I hadn’t thought about it. Erm. Yes? No? What would be the right answer to that?
HA — I always think it’s what you don’t see.
KK — I think it’s much sexier not seeing, I mean as a personal preference.
DC — I wasn’t told that [laughter] I’ve never been told that!
KK — No, you were told just to get your kit off.
HA — What were you wearing?
KK — He was wearing a nappy!
DC — I was told to put the nappy on and get on with it.
KK — Oh I’m so sorry.
DC — You chose it! There was a selection of things…
KK — There wasn’t, you’re lying! During the sex scene I was luckily fully clothed and he got to wear a skin-coloured nappy.
DC — Sellotaped to the inner sanctum! [laughter]
KK — I left that out! Yes, they’re never the best things. You are meant to be very supportive of each other but he did come out in a skin-coloured nappy and I just completely lost it. I’m so sorry I just couldn’t stop laughing and Saul did come over and say “Come on, just pull yourself together, this is serious work”. But he’s standing there in a skin-coloured nappy, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do! [laughter]
Hayley, it seemed the relationship between Bess and Georgiana started in one place and ended in another.
HA — I think that’s a credit to the complexities that Bess and Georgiana had within their relationship. It starts off with you thinking, what are Bess’s intentions here, is she a social climber, is she trying to get in to the household to further her status or to get custody of her own children?
But then I think it’s proof that when she spends the rest of her life with them, there’s a lot more genuine affection between them than was initially implied, and that her intentions at the beginning were possibly misunderstood. With Bess it felt like she’d become the mediator between the Duke and the Duchess and could understand them in a way that they couldn’t understand each other, because of at times their clashing personalities.
To what extent do you think the sexual aspect of the relationship between Bess and Georgiana was underplayed?
HA — With the sexual awakening scene, we wanted to be delicate enough with it to show an aspect of their relationship that wasn’t sexual. This was a time when you wouldn’t label it, there were no homosexuals, they didn’t have a label. I think marriage then, especially within aristocracy, was one based on more of a business deal than it was based on love or passion, so you were able to have your love affairs elsewhere.
With women teaching women how to enjoy themselves and their body sexually, it's something that shows how beautiful their relationship was, but you could also say it was partly Bess having a sexual power over G, as well as other forms of power, so it’s complicated.
What are your thoughts Keira?
KK — I thought she answered that very well! I was fascinated by the relationship between them. When I read the script for it, the first thing about Georgiana that really struck me was just how incredibly lonely this woman was; constantly surrounded by so many people and yet entirely alone. I decided she was somebody that just tried to grab on to any kind of love and attention that she could possibly get.
The friendship with Bess comes at a point when she’s been living with this man that doesn’t talk to her, they basically have no relationship for a number of years, and all of a sudden this woman comes in who’s interested in her, who wants to talk to her and teach her things, and who shows her love.
So I thought the sexual part of it – and it’s very much Bess teaching Georgiana that there is enjoyment to be had in an act that I think she’d never realised there was any pleasure in whatsoever – I thought it was a really interesting turn within the relationship and the fact that it’s a woman. I decided that Georgiana did love her very much, which is why the betrayal of Bess sleeping with the Duke is so absolute.
Keira, what do you think the film can teach teenage girls today about love and sacrifice?
KK — Oh Christ, don’t get married at 17 I think is probably what it teaches! [laughter] To a Duke, yeah! I think she was incredibly young, and incredibly romantic, and impressionistic, and she certainly finds out that the romance and the reality of the situation is very different.
So I think it’s a story of a fairytale going incredibly wrong. I’m not quite sure what that will teach teenage girls about marriage at 17, maybe, wait! Don’t!
The three actors were having a great time giggling with each other, but it was also clear that they feel passionately about the film and the more serious issues that it raises. The question of the Diana connection is coming up in a future installment, my girl FabUK will be bringing you their thoughts on the wigs and dresses, and I'll also give you my opinion on the film itself, so stay tuned!