Another period film that stars Keira Knightly, The Duchess certainly didn’t look it from the trailers, but those that took the time to view the historical film were no doubt astonished by not only the costumes but also the acting provided by Knightly, which was no doubt some of the best we’ve seen from the actress yet. Although it didn’t rake in a huge box office, the film was relatively well received by critics and viewers alike, making this film one that is likely to only grow in appreciation over the years as more pick up on the uniqueness of the film.
Academy Award nominees Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes star in The Duchess: the compelling true story of a lavish world filled with smoldering passion, heartbreaking deception and stifling demands. Beloved by a nation but betrayed by her husband, Georgiana Spencer – the Duchess of Devonshire and “Empress of Fashion”—faced an agonizing choice between responsibility and love. This gripping portrayal of England’s “It Girl” has won acclaim from audiences and critics alike. She was vivacious. She was heroic. She was The Duchess.
I won’t lie; I’m not the audience for this film and I’m also kind of tired of period films that have Keira Knightly in them (seriously, she was in Domino but was there anything else modern that she popped up in recently?). I also just recently watched The Other Boleyn Girl which was more or less the same story with a little more scandal worked into it. Also curiously both films were rated PG-13, despite being perhaps some of the most adult and morally questionable films I’ve ever seen. But such is the case with films that deal with powerful men seeking male heirs and only getting females from their wives.
Still, as generally bored as I was with the film as it started, I began to notice a pattern that emerged as the film went along. While The Other Boleyn featured fair enough acting from those involved, Knightly was really making this film way more than it possibly needed to be. Her presence in scenes alone brought the film to a whole new level and when she lets loose at her husband for taking her only friend, you almost feel as if you shouldn’t be watching such a personal sequence. It’s really quite a stunning film, based solely around Knightly’s performance which never fails to impress. If she doesn’t get some sort of award for this performance, it’d be a bit of a surprise to me.
And, of course, the film was also loaded with fantastic costumes. As many times as I see costumes that are of this much pomp and glory, I never fail to be impressed by the wild hairstyles and visuals that the dresses give off. It’s an absolutely astonishing visual at times to see everyone dressed in period clothing and while the story may feel similar to previous period films I’ve seen as of late, the clothing in the sequences here all feel unique.
But, despite astonishingly beautiful costumes and a fantastic acting job by Knightly, I find myself questioning if this film is really worth seeing aside from those two elements. While it’s certainly a fascinating story in its own right, with The Other Boleyn Girl still fresh in my mind, I could hardly separate the two in overall story when it came down to it. Both had strong female leads and a pig of a male demanding an heir, but The Duchess did have a bit more grace to it all. While Other Boleyn simply felt like a historical soap opera, the love elements of Duchess felt much more natural.
Still, I once again concede I am hardly the audience for this film. Having said that I still did find some elements to enjoy about the film, but those who are more easily engaged by period films and by Knightly once again portraying a strong female with a forbidden-love scenario, then you’ll be greatly impressed by it a great deal more. As is, guys, if you kick and scream going into this film at least know you’ll get a great performance from Knightly (and not to completely shortchange anyone else, as they all do a fantastic job, it’s just that Knightly carries the entire film on her shoulders and does it exceedingly well). Overall this one comes Recommended, although just make sure you’re in the proper target group before you whine about the films steady pace of talking scenes.
Once again Paramount delivers a film with the usual Blu-ray flair. A single disc amaray case houses the disc inside (complete with plain grey disc art) and an insert noting firmware player updates. Menus are simple and easy to navigate, and I’ve got nothing bad to say about the overall presentation of the film in terms of packaging and appearance.
Video is an AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 aspect ratio that looks absolutely fantastic. The period costumes come alive on the screen and look clear enough that you feel you could take them off the screen and wear them. Detail is high throughout the picture and overall there isn’t a single thing to complain about here. Simply put it all just looks fantastic, with superb visuals, great colors and solid black levels throughout. Audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that sounds…well, mostly front focused, really. There isn’t a whole lot here to impress in terms of surround usage, although the crowded party sequences and the like do offer up quite a bit in terms of enveloping the room. Subwoofer activity is minimal, but that’s to be expected from a mostly talky film. Also included are Spanish and French DD5.1 tracks, as well as English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Extras are minimal here, but they’re all included in high definition which is a plus. First up we have the How Far She Went… (22:48, 1080i) making-of, which includes your usually array of cast and crew interviews. This is really the only look at the production of the film we get in terms of actor and director input, as the remaining featurettes are focused more on the history and costumes of the film. Georgiana in Her Own Words (7:11, 1080i) reads actual letters by the Duchess, while Costume Diary (5:37, 1080i) quickly recaps the myriad of costumes used throughout the film. Also included is a pair of Theatrical Trailers (1:51 & 2:34, 1080p).
Overall not a bad release, but I’m quite surprised there’s no commentary on here at least. Still, this one’s Recommended–fantastic visuals, great video quality and superb acting; replay value is limited as I doubt you could really get into this film the same way as you do the first time around, but fans of period films will no doubt eat this one up.
The Duchess is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.