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Paramount Home Video presents
The Duchess (Blu-ray) (2008)

"How foolish of me to think that I should be able to converse with my husband."
- Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 05, 2009

Stars: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes
Other Stars: Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Simon McBurney
Director: Saul Dibb

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material
Run Time: 01h:50m:01s
Release Date: December 28, 2008
UPC: 097361400747
Genre: historical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-A- B-

DVD Review

Once, a beautiful and vivacious teenage girl in the Spencer family fell victim to an arranged marriage upward in the aristocracy to a much older man, where she suffered numerous indignities and was valued mostly for her breeding capabilities. Suffering through her marriage, she turned to bulimia, addictions and infidelities. But through her celebrity and being beloved by the populace, she was able to help make a difference politically. That wasn't just Diana Spencer, but 18th-century woman Georgiana Spencer, who in this biopic makes an impression as a woman far ahead of her time.

In 1774 England, Georgiana (Keira Knightley) is married off to the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), who has only three interests in life: obtaining a male heir, his dogs, and his mistresses. At first, she tries to obtain comfort in a friend, Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), but the Duke deprives her of that by taking Bess as yet another mistress. Swinging her talents to encouragement of the Whig party, Georgiana finds that she can use her notoriety and fashionability constructively. What she cannot find, however, is a peacable relationship with her husband, and she finds herself attracted to the young politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), learning in the process that what is permitted for male nobility is not allowed for females.

The story of Georgiana almost seems absurdly modern as she fidgets against the restrictions of her age and the inability of women to express themselves except in the form of dresses and hats. The relationship of Bess, Georgiana and the Duke becomes increasingly complex as Bess first instructs Georgiana on the pleasurability of sex, and then finds the duke willing to help her in recovering her children only if she will be his mistress. While devotion to a friend is one thing, motherly instinct is quite another, leading to a betrayal that Georgiana has little choice other than to accept.

The theme of women being deprived of their children figures largely in the story, with two instances of it occurring and a third being seriously threatened. The extreme leverage offered by this tactic, and the women's lack of any effective way to counter it, certainly makes a feminist statement. The electoral themes of change and increasing the vote will certainly resonate today, though Georgiana's impatience with a limited freedom for a few rather than the many will also seem familiar. The older generation, signified by Georgiana's mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling), emphasizes that there is little option available; not for wife nor mistress.

Knightley continues to work her way through period costume dramas, nicely conveying the cool imperiousness necessary while mixing it with a pleasing amount of spunk and even some girlish frivolity amongst the serious goings-on. Fiennes could have taken the easier route and simply made the Duke out to be an 18th-century monster, but to a certain extent he conveys confusion at the changing mores and an uncertainty about whether he is in fact doing the right thing. But in the end, his nearly absolute power is far too tempting and he cannot resist using it to break Georgiana's will. Rampling is excellent as Georgiana's sour-faced mother, who without saying so disapproves of Georgiana's conduct immensely. Atwell is a fairly formidable counterpart to Knightley, and nearly steals the show at several moments. But it's certainly Knightley's movie (she's in virtually every single scene), and her impassioned portrayal helps make it convincing and evocative to the modern viewer.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The widescreen picture is generally attractive, but the typical over-filtering present on AVC compression removes most of the fine detail and texture from the picture. The color design comes across well, and black levels are generally good (though a bit weak in daylight sequences). Edge enhancement is sometimes visible, especially on vertical lines. A film that depends so heavily on candle and fire light ought to have some visible grain structure, but it's virtually eliminated by the noise reduction here, resulting in an unsatisfactorily smooth and undistinguished picture that looks more like a video game than a movie, which is tragic considering the incredible locations and costume work on display. This is Exhibit A for why filtering and noise reduction needs to be stopped on high-definition releases.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: An English language TrueHD track is included, as are standard DD 5.1 French and Spanish tracks. The English track has excellent spatial definition, with crackling fires precisely placed, and the reverberation of cavernous rooms coming across with wonderful immediacy. There are some instances of low frequency punctuation at the end of scenes and these are challengingly low, which is a bit surprising for a picture of this ilk.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Most of the materials included are of the EPK sort, though there is some solid content nevertheless, and everything is presented in HD, which is certainly a plus. How Far She Went...Making The Duchess (22m:48s) is a decent making-of that discusses the real Georgiana, the use of the real locations where she lived, the approaches of the actors to their characters, and the costumes and wigs. The latter point is followed up in the Costume Diary (5m:37s), a chat with the costume designer about the effects intended from the various outfits, and the treacherous task of making a statement with them without overwhelming the dialogue and the personal relationships. Georgiana in her Own Words (7m:11s) is a fascinating and all-too-short look at Georgiana's letters, as analyzed by her biographer, and tracing the evolution of her attitudes (as well as her penmanship). The package is rounded out with a pair of trailers for the feature.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A lush biopic of a little-known personage, with some terrific central performances. Knightley is once again stuck in enormous wigs and dresses, but she carries off the part beautifully.


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