Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Duchess

I went to see The Duchess last week, despite my fears that it would be disappointing. I mean, Keira Knightley? Give me a break.

Unsurprisingly, my fears were vindicated! It wasn't so much Keira's fault as I expected, though. She was competent in the role as given. If I'm not mistaken, there was even less pouting than usual. The problem was that I didn't see Georgiana in the role. Movie Georgiana is not unintelligent, but is nowhere near as fascinating and intelligent as the real-life Georgiana. They turned this amazing woman into a victim, and it irritated me.

I felt that the movie was too concerned with showing what characters were 'good' and which were 'evil'. Georgiana is good and wonderful in every way. Which she wasn't in real life (there's that gambling problem, for starters). The Duke is a caricature of a "bad" husband. Which he wasn't in real life. And so on and so forth.

I was also really disappointed that they reduced Georgiana's involvement in politics to 'introducing speakers at rallies'. There was no sense of just how daring it was for a woman to get involved in politics, nor how much criticism she braved. There was no sense of just how involved she became - how she went out into the street and talked to the ordinary people to solicit votes. I mean, she practically invented door-knocking and shopping centre visits. Also, there was very little acknowledgment that Georgiana was a patron of the arts, a novelist, and really the hub of Whig intellectual life in the late 18th-century. This is interesting stuff, especially since most audiences probably wouldn't be aware just how central a position women occupied in public life in the late eighteenth-century (as opposed to the much more repressed Victorian era). Much more interesting than the fairly mundane story of her marriage. I mean, what high-society couple weren't having affairs in the 18th-century? It was hardly remarkable at all.

I also felt the film suffered from desperately trying to be Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, a film which I absolutely adored. I think the difference between the two films was that MA had a guiding principle, a thread that ran through the entire movie. Despite the focus on Marie's childishness, it still managed to not present Marie as a victim. The Duchess, however, didn't seem to have any 'point' (besides the OMG SHE'S JUST LIKE DIANA thing), and it turned one of the most fascinating women in history into a victim. And that is what is truly unforgivable.

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