Opens in New York and Los Angeles on 19 September
If “The Duchess” does not take home an Oscar for Best Costumes, then there is no justice in the world. Now I’m not so good with my eighteenth century English history, so a film about Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire was previously known to me only as “the period move where Keira Knightley has nookie with Dominic Cooper.” Basically you’ve got the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) who plucks this gal from the lawn one day as her dear mother has sworn she can be loyal and give him a baby boy. She’s vivacious and designs her own clothes, while he has the personality of a can of tuna. They enter into a loveless marriage for years, she pops out a litter of girls, and he has plenty of badonkadonk with every servant, hussy and dinner guest he catches a whiff of. It’s all very dreary until the Duchess is reacquainted with Charles Grey (played by Dominic Cooper, a very Mediterranean-looking Englishman), with whom she once had a brief and mild flirtation. From there, she’s playing with fire and a wig even goes in up flames while its on her head! It’s a big journey to witness and Ms. Knightley is remarkable through it. With so much to cover, the film jumps fairly quickly and operates in short scenes, which don’t show us how she became so adored by the people – we just know that she was. And then it’s a whole lot of drama – not bad, mind you – but it dances on the line of maudlin a few times (corsets and violins play their part, of course). Even if you are not a big fan of period pieces, I think you will be hard-pressed not to empathize with the Duchess’ pain and yearning. Go see it for the history, for a very young Keira Knightley lookin’ real rough and turning out another gasper of a performance, and see it for the ridiculously amazing costumes – hundreds of them – that were built for this film (with the feathers and all the assorted accoutrement, the Knightley trailer had to be enlarged just to accommodate them). At the end of the day, it all amounts to a lush and heart-wrenching epic, and that’s all one can hope for in the fall collection.