Hollywood hues
Period piece

Saul Gibb’s The Duchess begins well but the narrative later tends to get
bogged down in a repetitive mould, says Ervell E. Menezes

LAVISHLY set in the late 18th century England, The Duchess is about the sexual dalliances that make common folk lords and ladies and how changing partners is avidly accepted in royal circles. This comedy of manners has Georgina Spencer (Keira Knightley) as the focal point it is her not-so-dangerous liaisons as the Duchess of Devonshire that vividly bring out the ambience of the period though it lacks the passion and emotion that should go with it.

As the Duchess of Devonshire, Keira Knightley covers a wide range of histrionic emotions
As the Duchess of Devonshire, Keira Knightley covers a wide range of histrionic emotions

Georgina is a lively damsel accustomed to flirting with the opposite sex when suddenly her crafty mother (Charlotte Rampling) arranged a march with the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). The change is sudden and poor Georgina (referred to alternatively as G and Georgina by her Duke husband) is not initially able to cope with it. "I was foolish enough to think I could converse with my husband," she says in one of those cryptic lies. He is a man of few words.

As time goes by it is Georgina’s inability to provide him with an heir that further sours up things. Then the Duke’s roving eye falls on her close friend Elizabeth (Mercy Fiennes Tiffin) much to the discomfiture of the Duchess. But it doesn’t take her long to adapt to these cuckolds. Not to be outdone, she decides to openly woo Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), an up and coming politico.

The screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and Saul Gibb is somewhat verbose but not without some good lines. But director Saul Gibb gives more importance to the lush outdoors and atmosphere instead of the human passions that become part of these duplicitous dalliances. Actually the slow, halting pace is very European and one gets set to see a dramatic period piece. This, of course, happens but somewhere at the halfway stage the narrative tends to get bogged down in a repetitive mould thus affecting its flow.

Though Keira Knightley covers a wide range of histrionic emotions, she lacks fire or passion. Ralph Fiennes does well to underplay the rakish Duke who in typical coldness tells the Duchess ‘I love you in the way I understand love’. Mercy Fiennes Tiffin impresses as the ‘other woman’ but Dominic Cooper is only academic. As for yesteryear sex kitten Charlotte Rampling, she is relegated to a more matronly part that is the fate of many such ageing prima donnas. The Duchess may lack the spark but is still quite watchable.