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Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Duchess

The Thin White Dude’s Reviews – The Duchess

Yes, indeed we are in the middle of a reviews frenzy. Not a moment to spare. Anyway, this was a trip to The Strand almost destined for disaster, being a person who absolutely despises all of those costume dramas in which all the same actors seem to star, have silly haircuts and wigs, drink lots of tea, speak to other with this whole upper class posh nosh nonsense they call conversation et al. Anyway, post rant now, we have a review of The Duchess, being advertised now as the new Keira Knightley movie, which is a fair estimation. It is effectively her movie, delivering a very fine and mature performance past her years. It is one of those characters who transforms onscreen, which I must confess, is one of my favourite things to see onscreen. The Godfather (I and II) are perhaps the best examples of a character transformation, with the character of Michael Corleone. In The Duchess, Knightley's Georgiana transforms from a naive, innocent young girl who willingly accepts a Duke's hand in marriage, into a disillusioned woman who struggles through her attempts to find true love. To fill in on plot, The Duke, is not the kind of man she would expect to want to marry. In a very menacing, calous role, Ralph Fiennes suitably fills the boots of a man who is near unforgiveable in the treatment of his new wife. He does not consider her his wife, per se, but merely as his opportunity to gain an heir to his position of Duke of Devonshire. Fiennes is a character whose genuine intimidating screen presence all the more seems to enhance the role of the less experienced Knightley, who as mentioned earlier, shines onscreen. Despite it being her movie, I believe that Fiennes deserves suitable credit as The Duke, certainly being his better role of the year, over his Ben Kingsley impersonation in In Bruges. Dominic Cooper's Charles Grey, however, is a different case. He plays out a very boring version of a very boring stereotype, the man who is the Duchess' true love. He is given very little screen time in order to be developed as a credible, three-dimensional character. An example of another good supporting role was Hayley Atwell's Bess Parker, who is given much more screen time and certainly acts better than Cooper in this film. Also, Charlotte Rampling as Georgiana's mother is great, perfectly fulfilling the woman's stereotypical position in society at the time. Bringing it to this point, the film's main triumph in my opinion is the position that women were given in society at that time. Knightley's character is an intellectual, arguing amongst the men regarding their ideas of freedom, and is genuinely charismatic, however, because of her sex, despite her attempts to escape her position, she is consistently reduced by The Duke with the aid of her mother's "That's the way it is" attitude. The fact that she gets mistreated, cheated on and effectively beaten in such a manner may come as a shock to some seeing it, but it creates a very vivid portrayal of women's position at the time. It is for this that Saul Dibb should be credited. He certainly keeps his focus on the characters and plot, but takes into account the political and social subtext, which is something that many directors fail in achieving a balance, that between focus and subtext. However, the main flaw is the ending in my opinion. For a film which was genuinely strong with recurring themes and strong emotional depth, an ending of such will come as a disappointment. I can understand how it works and why it works, but for me it will always be "Okay, so, what happens next?" Its like being just at the beginning of the third act of a film whenever the lights are suddenly switched off and you're told to leave. Overall, though a strong film, with a career-making performance for Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes at his villianous best, among others. It must be noted that there are perhaps suggestions in the fact that most developed characters in the film are female, and they are generally good performances, with men being portrayed as possessive, one-sided and obnoxious. The underlying subtext too is strong, as is Saul Dibb's direction. The script is also very good, with some very strong resonating lines. The main issues of course are the bland performance of Dominic Cooper and his boring character, and the cut-off ending, but otherwise, a highly commendable film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

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