tek's rating: ½

The Duchess (PG-13)
BBC Film; IMDb; Paramount; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; Hulu; iTunes; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: potential spoilers.

It begins in 1774, in England. A young woman named Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley), who at age 17, married William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes), the Duke of Devonshire. In the very first scene, prior to their betrothal, it becomes rather obvious that there is a potential for romantic feelings between Georgiana and a young man named Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). So one would think that when she learned of the arrangement for her to marry the Duke, she'd be upset. But on the contrary, she seemed quite happy about it. She would soon find the marriage not to be as happy as she expected, however. He had frequent affairs, apparently had no concept of love, and only wanted a wife to bear him a male heir. At one point, a young girl named Charlotte comes to live with them, who was his illegitimate daughter from one of his affairs (prior to his marriage to Georgiana); the girl's mother had recently died. Not long after that, Georgiana gave birth to a girl of her own, also named Georgiana (or "Little G").

The film then flashes forward six years. Georgiana now has two daughters, Little G and Harriet (or "Harryo"), and has also raised Charlotte as one of her own. But I should say, the children are of little direct importance to the movie; we barely see them, much less hear them. Anyway, around this time she meets a woman named Lady Elizabeth "Bess" Foster (Hayley Atwell), whose abusive husband had recently thrown her out, to be with his mistress, and wouldn't let Bess see her three sons. So, Georgiana gets William to invite her to stay with them. The two women quickly become good friends (and there's one scene that sort of teases a lesbian encounter, though it doesn't really happen). But before long, William takes Bess as his latest mistress. This, naturally, makes Georgiana furious... though she'd accepted his other affairs, she didn't want him taking her one true friend. (Bess had her reasons, but Georgiana couldn't accept that, at first.)

But, she does reconnect with Charles Grey, whose political career is now on the rise. And Georgiana herself becomes involved in popularizing Grey and the Whig Party. (She was very popular with pretty much everyone in society, as well as the common people.) And she eventually had an affair with him... which William couldn't stand, because of the potential scandal, I guess. (I do so hate double standards, but it's 18th century England, so... what can you do?) Meanwhile, Georgiana still hadn't borne a son for William, so... he basically rapes her. And that finally results in a son (also named William, or "Hart").

Anyway... I'm not going to give away any more of the plot. Some more important things happen, though. I just want to say, this is the kind of movie that makes me hate history, because people in the past could be so unfair... society itself could be so unfair... sexism was so entrenched and seemingly unalterable, and there really wasn't much of anything Georgiana could do but accept it, even if, as one character pointed out, "everyone except the Duke is in love with his wife." Certainly, the movie made her seem like a very intelligent, funny, sociable, forward-thinking woman, who probably played a significant role in helping modernize the world's views, somewhat, even if it didn't happen soon enough to be of benefit to her. And yet... one thing that frustrated me about the movie was not getting sufficient insight into why William was the way he was. It is clear throughout the movie that he is not at all happy about his own station in life, that he feels compelled to do the things he does, because of the nature of the world to which he was born. (In fact, while he doesn't believe the kind of world Georgiana and Charles hope to create is possible, I think it's a world in which he would have been much happier, and a much nicer person.) And more than just feeling a sense of duty (which presumably includes a great many things that the movie doesn't show any of, besides just the imperative to sire a male heir), he really seems not to be capable of love. I think he recognizes that in himself, and I think he wishes it were otherwise. It would be nice to know how he got to be this way... was he unloved as a child, or what? Yeah, there are all kinds of hints throughout the film about how trapped he feels by pretty much his entire existence. But while I can't help feeling a certain sympathy for him, that doesn't make me hate him any less, really.

based on a true story