| The Red Right Hand
I recently purchased and thoroughly enjoyed the HBO mini-series John Adams. One of the key elements that made that 18th Century historical/period drama a success was a sublime combination of fine acting, beautiful locations, gorgeous production, superbly utilised visual effects and a underlying theme of plausible reality injected into such a well known, documented and studied series of events. Unfortunately, the makers of The Duchess probably haven't seen John Adams. If they had, they would know that audiences demand a sense of realism in their lavish costume dramas. The BBC have been praised and heralded for producing stellar pieces for this genre but now everything feels a little too formulaic and far too... clean.
The Duchess' plot is a rather generic story of little event or interest. At the start of the screening, I turned to my friend and whispered, "I bet you a fiver this film is about a woman who gets married, hates it, finds someone else but can't be with him then gets raped or killed or something." Sure enough I was pretty much spot on... didn't get my money but the vindication was enough. Keira Knightley plays Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire, having recently married Ralph Fiennes' cold, 2D Duke of Devonshire. Unhappy with married life, Georgiana takes solace in social and political life and becomes something of a socialite celebrity, renowned for her cutting-edge style, taste and sense of fashion. So we have Keira Knightley playing a young unhappy girl with a lot of money and clothes and Ralph Fiennes playing a cold, distant git - and they say actors are no longer typecast.
With such fine actors, you can't help but award praise for the performances; that and the costumes and interiors are all pristine and captivating - as we have come to expect from this calibre of drama. The unpleasant truth is that The Duchess is a very slow, dull film with absolutely nothing new to offer; all surface without substance - not dissimilar to The Other Boleyn Girl. Initially, the script was rife with interesting and witty rapport but this quickly faded and all subtlety was traded for hysterical shaking, crying and screaming. Similarly, the score was an immense disappointment. It is my fervent belief that musical accompaniment is one of the key factors to a film's success. In her time Rachel Portman has produced some interesting and diverse pieces, (Chocolat and Oliver Twist come to mind) but the score for The Duchess is little more than a phoned-in effort, pumping out all the stereotypical and clichéd notes and rises, force-feeding the audience: feel happy now, feel elated NOW, feel sad NOW! FEEL SAD, DAMN YOU! THIS IS A SAD MOMENT! IF YOU DIDN'T PICK THIS UP FROM STARING INTO A CLOSE-UP OF KEIRA KNIGHTLEY'S WELLING EYES FOR TEN BLOODY MINUTES, THEN LISTEN TO THIS AWFUL DIRGE! CRY!! Thomas Newman offered one of the most beautiful and fitting scores for Road To Perdition, a perfect example of how to create aural art to compliment visual art. Rachel Portman, it would seem, has yet to fully grasp this concept.
No doubt this film will pull-in viewers on name power alone but with little-to-nothing to offer audiences after the first ten minutes, I wouldn't expect it to do well at all. Ultimately, a release destined to be forgotten and later broadcast on TV to meagre audiences who may or may not quietly mutter, "This TV show has pretty good production value" ...or words to that effect.
UK - 5th September 2008
US - 19th September 2008
The Scene To Look Out For:
Being a Knightley film it was only a matter of time before she got naked or drunk or boned something or had some lesbian encounter - but I intend to sidestep those particular scenes and wish to highlight something else. Having birthed another man's daughter, Georgaina is now faced with the cruel choice of leaving the Duke and never seeing her three/four (it's complicated) children again or sacrificing her newborn and return to London under the pretence that she was away on holiday. The scene itself is typically melodramatic and by that stage I wanted the film to end so badly that I wouldn't have cared less if a man had approached Georgaina, taken the baby and flung it into a nearby lake. The setting for this exchange is, of course, Norfolk. For those that don't know, I currently reside in the city of Norwich, in the heart of Norfolk. I'm a Londoner, I hate it here. So witnessing the baron, drizzly flatlands of the county doubling as a place of sheer misery and pain for Georgaina struck a chord with me. A little over the top and melodramatic? Fair enough... erm... I suppose another scene to highlight would be Keira Knightley's confrontation with Ralph Fiennes over his affair with her best friend. There, happy now?
I always think Simon McBurney (here playing leader of the opposition, Charles James Fox) gets the more unappreciated end of the stick but amidst fine actors playing exceedingly typecast roles he does have a tendency to steel various scenes.
"You have so many ways of expressing yourself; we have our hats and shoes"
In A Few Words:
"Graced with pomp and ceremony and little else"