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MaryAnn Johanson

On DVD: The Duchess

It’s all very sad and tragic, I suppose, particularly if you start by watching the extras on the new DVD or Blu-ray disc of The Duchess, out now from Paramount. She was a real person — Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire — who lived in the late 18th century and had pretty much as wonderful a life as someone could have at the time. While Marie Antoinette was getting her head chopped off across the English Channel for being such a snooty bitch to the ordinary French folk, Georgiana was the Princess Di of her day (she was actually an ancestor of Diana’s), living it up like only 18th-century aristocrats could, but endearing herself to the guttersnipes by being generally fabulous about clothes and hair and throwing great parties for the desperate proles to read about in the newspapers and fantasize about being a part of.

That’s what The Duchess the movie looks like to me: a slyly snarky satire-that’s-no-satire, with Keira Knightley teetering around in a preposterously huge wig while sketch-artist paparazzi — no kidding! — capture her exciting new look for the gossip rags. If we thought celebrity culture run amuck was our own invention … ha. But Georgiana was more, oh, Maria Shriver than Paris Hilton, using her husband the duke’s (Ralph Fiennes) position as one of the most powerful lords in England as a platform for supporting her own favorite politicians and political causes. And not just the hunky young member of Parliament (Dominic Cooper) she was sleeping with on the side, either. You go, girl.

But no, no, I must remind myself: all very sad and tragic. You see, in “Georgiana in Her Own Words,” the bonus featurette about the real duchess’s letters, which were the basis for the book that was the basis for the film, we learn all about how terrible Georgiana’s life was, how her husband was a cad and she gambled too much and used too many intoxicating substances and worried about how her cad of a husband would scold her for her misdeeds. And sure, the movie depicts the sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll lifestyle of the duchess … but it doesn’t quite achieve the level of tragedy I think it wants to. It’s more The Real Housewife of Devon County than anything else. It’s hard to feel sorry for Georgiana, though perhaps I should be somewhat ashamed of enjoying the cheesiness of her calamity so much.


But is it my fault if The Duchess isn’t as “all that” as it thinks it is — if it’s more fun than somber? The other bonus making-ofs are all about trying to make us understand how “important” this flick is, too, but honestly, as Knightley herself points out in “How Far She Went… Making The Duchess,” the reason Georgiana is remembered is because she was the first to use her celebrity for political gain. That’s certainly worth being notable for — it was one of the few ways women had of garnering any power outside the home — and good on her for having such a ball (alongside the tragedy) while doing it.

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MaryAnn Johanson, not a frakkin’ Cylon (email me)


Categories: DVD

Tags: Dvd, Keira knightley, Ralph fiennes, The duchess