Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Duchess and I

The Lobbyist and I went to see The Duchess partly because I've been studying stuff quite pertinent to the time and place of its setting (London mostly, roughly 1774 -- 1790), and in fact had been across the pond researching when it was being filmed and so, one day at the brilliant suggestion of The Lobbysist, we used my Ministry of Elegance carte blanche to enter the Courtauld and there, for half an hour, we watched Keira Knightley being received, across the vast courtyeard, as the Dss of Devonshire at Somerset House as cameras rolled. So of course we had to see how it came out despite that fact that the film has perhaps the Worst Trailer of All Time -- except perhaps for that of An American Carol. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I am, in a very hetereosexual way, a lover of costume drama, especially when the story promises to, in climactic moments, rip off some bodices and corsets and improvers and panniers and whatnot.

I thought the film was quite entertaining, and got a bit of a charge early on, when as the Duchess is marching up between the ranks of liveried footmen to the palatial new home where shortly she'll be unwrapped by the Duke for the first time, the camera takes in the back of the Courtauld, and there, in the upper left quadrant of the frame, are very tiny versions of myself and the Lobbyist gawking out a window at the proceedings. So we're actually in The Duchess -- just uncredited.

It must be admitted that the filmmakers did the most melodramatic, Hollywoodized oversimplification possible of Georgiana's story. They went with the idea that the Duchess finally was able to break free of the cold unfeeling Duke, for whom she was just a brood-mare, there for making heirs, and found true love and orgasms in the arms of boy toy Charles Grey -- a sort of How the Duchess Got Her Groove Back. There is a little political gesturing on Keira's part, some mention of her designing clothes, but no mention of her verse and novel writing, no mention of her deep friendship with both the British Crown Prince and the French Queen, the rather cinematic herself Marie Antoinette, no mention of Georgiana's insane gambling and decadent partying. Basically the only suspense arises from the implied question: Will the pooor thing find some good lovin'? And also, will she throw all else away for love? Anybody who has read Amanda Foreman's Georgiana knows how all that turns out, and much more about the Duchess than the movie suggests.

In sum, I thought the filmers took a rather dimwitted, distinctly counterfeminst and reactionary view of it all. The economy of their whole world is all false -- none of the principal characters ever does a lick of work or worries, it seems, about anything except getting properly laid. There were wars and revolutions and world-changing scientific discoveries and duels and bankrupcies, an insane King and a beheaded one, women striking out on their own in a really meaningful way, the first flights of balloons (some of which the Dss sponsored) and the first experiments with electricity, the birth of modern ballet and opera, et cetera et cetera. Georgiana was totally stoked about it all, whenever she wasn't terrifyingly close to the center of the maelstrom. To reduce her to a lovesick clothes-horse seems a bit unjust. This said, Keira looked pretty great in the feathers.


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