Duchess, The (US - BD)
Gabe's clothes are far more fabulous than Keira's, and his hair is bigger too
When Georgina (Keira Knightly) married the Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish (Ralph Fiennes), and became the Duchess of Devonshire, she expected a fairytale life. Instead, she finds herself in a loveless marriage to a man who’s only concerned with fathering a male heir. Soon the Duke moves her former best friend, and his mistress, Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), and she is forbidden from seeing her own true love, a rising politician named Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Needless to say, things don’t get better from there.
Cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard has a great bit about British films being only about emotionally stunted people accidentally opening doors on each other. The Duchess isn’t a complete mess of unspoken emotions, and opening doors, but it is exceedingly British on every level. This isn’t a negative statement, necessarily, my problems stem from how bloody generic the whole thing is (see, I used ‘bloody’, that’s very British of me). One can remark that the film was based on a true story, but one must also admit that many of these true stories of European aristocracy resemble each other (or the Asian aristocracies for that matter).
The question one must then ask themselves is why did this story need to be told? If the story is generally the same as so many others overall, why bother telling it at all? I, myself, not being a connoisseur of costume genres, couldn’t answer this question, and thusly didn’t really enjoy The Duchess. It’s no carbon copy, or a mess of clichés so obvious it hurts to watch, it just never goes anywhere not often travelled. I’m thankful for the beautiful compositions, the more than competent acting (Ralph Fines gives a wonderfully funny performance, intended or not), and the pacing is much swifter than expected, but there wasn’t anything to thrill me personally on this trip back in time.
The original teaser trailer for The Duchess was all image, no information, which speaks to how well shot the whole candle lit vigil is. In high definition video the soft lights are no issue for resolution, nor does the overall dimness of the production reveal any unwanted noise. Despite all the painstaking set and costume details, the print doesn’t really embrace the high detail possibilities of high definition, opting more for softer focus, and fewer close-ups. The value of the Blu-ray’s transfer mostly lies in its cleanliness and rich colours. The colour pallet is split into three groups—the daylight scenes, which are bright with harsh whites, and the night scenes which are usually golden tinted, but occasionally deeply blue.
Audiophiles will likely be bored with this Dolby TrueHD track, which mostly exists as a show reel for Rachel Portman’s score. The dialogue is centred and clear, though disappointingly the side and back born words are centred as well. Our few moments of dramatic surround sound come in the form of brief horse drawn characters, and outdoor trysts, but mostly the sound design is quite downplayed. The score, which doesn’t surprise on many levels, really blares when the filmmakers want us to think and feel certain obvious emotions. Strangely, the score sounds a bit on the synthetic side, but is warm and full to the brims with la-di-da.
‘How Far She Went…’ is a twenty-four minute, six part making-of featurette. The production speaks of the title character as if she was the first notorious celebrity, and more frustratingly reveals a much more interesting character than is displayed in the film. Georgina was a gambling, bulimic, drug addict, and in the film the best we get is vague drunkenness and a few fleeting shots of blackjack. The featurette also breaks down all the real life settings the crew used for filming, praises the capable cast, and the hardships of hair design (look for an empty Oscar nod soon).
‘Georgina in Her Own Words’ is a seven minute conversation with Amanda Foreman, author of ‘Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire’, the book which the film was based upon, as she digs through a collection of letters written by the real Duchess. It’s interestingly noted that the letters were saved and edited to a certain extent by Bess, who loved her friend, but obviously didn’t want some of her opinions too well known. Besides a duo of trailers, the disc is finalized with ‘Costume Drama’, a five and a half minute look at the film’s elaborate costume design (again, look for an empty Oscar nod).
The Duchess is a beautiful looking film that is entirely devoid of any real interests, and which apparently doesn’t do its subjects any service. If you’re desperately in search of another empty costume drama, running on the exact same character arcs as every other costume you’ve ever seen, than knock yourself out with nearly two hours of impregnable photography, sets, and costumes, just don’t expect anything more. Though designed to be a little on the soft side, the Blu-ray looks stunning, but the audio is a bit of an underachievement, and the extras are over in a matter of minutes.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 27th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: 'How Far She Went...', 'Georgina in Her Own Words', 'Costume Diary', Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Saul Dibb
Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Charlotte Rampling, Hayley Atwell
Length: 110 minutes
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