Keira Knightley's latest period offering, The Duchess, is finally released at cinemas across the UK today. We've seen the stars at the world premiere and attending radio interviews, and now it's time to see if the film lives up to all the hype. Although the poster carries the famous Diana quote — "there were three people in her marriage" — the film has nothing to do with her (as the cast and director told me when I met them recently) so that aspect of the trailer is for marketing and doesn't reflect the content of the film. As Keira said, the Duchess is a fascinating character in her own right.
Keira plays the part of Georgiana Spencer, who becomes Duchess of Devonshire when she marries the much older Duke (Ralph Fiennes). The Duchess was famous at the end of the eighteenth century for her beauty, fashion sense and appetite for gambling. She became a shrewd political operator and a doting mother, but it is her search for love that forms the heart of this story. The complexities of her relationship with her best friend and husband's mistress, Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), and her affair with Prime Minister in training Earl Grey (Dominic Cooper), drive the plot as Georgiana faces heartbreaking decisions imposed on her by her powerful husband.
To find out why I gave The Duchess four stars, and to read the cast and director's thoughts on the film, just read more
The acting is first-class, and Ralph Fiennes' performance is particularly strong. The Duke is an unsympathetic character on paper but the director, Saul Dibb, said it was very important to Ralph that the Duke was a rounded character. Although it is a dark story, there are a lot of darkly funny moments, and these are courtesy of the Duke. Saul told me his thoughts on Ralph and these lighter moments:
"He just gave us a brilliant performance. I think they are blackly comic, a lot of these moments, often because he absolutely said with conviction things that belonged to the time, values that belonged to the time. For modern audience it’s just so extraordinary to hear those things said so bluntly. He’s also got amazing comic timing".
The locations are breathtaking too, and testament to the decision to film practically every scene in real country houses and impressive buildings rather than studios.
Another strength of the film is the wardrobe. Designed by Michael O'Connor, the outfits that Georgiana and Bess wear are out of this world, or out of this contemporary world anyway.
We also get to see how their clothes are constructed in the undressing scenes, with layers upon layers of dresses, corsets and frames offering us a glimpse beyond the facade.
The wigs are incredible and used as plot devices, like when one catches fire and when the Duke and Earl take theirs off in moments of vulnerability.
My girl FabUK has got the lowdown on what Keira and Hayley said about their experience of wearing the costumes.
The relationship between G (as she is sometimes called in the film) and Bess was the most intriguing part of the film. As Hayley told me, it was a very complex relationship, and I would have liked to have seen more of an exploration into it, but after Bess betrays G's trust the film's focus turns elsewhere. If you want to see more of Hayley on the big screen, she'll be appearing in Brideshead Revisited next month (read the book with me ahead of the film's release!).
The love story between Georgiana and Earl Grey was wonderful, and was my favourite aspect of the film. Dominic gives a great performance, even though at times he comes across as too modern to completely fit in to the period. Ever since he told me all about the practicalities of filming sex scenes I haven't quite been able to look at him in the same light, but he is totally convincing as the man the Duchess truly loves.
Keira is in practically every scene and I was more impressed by her performance in this film than her previous period outings. She only overacts in a couple of scenes, and she made me care about the character. She told me "it was a wonderful challenge" to take on such a big role, but also "completely terrifying". Keira also has strong views on the ending. Without wanting to give too much away, it is seen by some as a happy one, but not by Keira. She told me:
"I think the whole journey for her is from idealism in to reality, in a strange kind of way, and I think she gets very much broken down in the end. The whole thing is like a card game and she plays her cards out and for me, no, she didn’t get a happy ending. She does survive, which is I suppose in itself a happy ending".
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film, and whether or not you think it's a happy ending, so do let me know once you've seen it.