Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for nudity and mature themes
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Keira Knightley was made for costume dramas; her slender frame, chiseled cheekbones and cool demeanor begging for wigs and corsets.
“Duchess” is classic Knightley, the mostly true story of Georgiana Spencer, a charming extrovert who made an abysmal match to the wealthy and powerful 18th century aristocrat the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes).
With patience, fortitude and stoic resignation Georgiana, now the exalted Duchess of Devonshire, gets on with the pre-arranged business of bearing the Duke a son. Instead it’s an incessant procession of daughters, including a fey toddler sired by the Duke on the side.
Double standards abound – the chilly bastard taking his wife’s best friend as his mistress (Hayley Atwell as Lady Elizabeth) but threatening to spirit away Georgiana’s daughters if she so much as looks at another man. Considering the fact that she’s besotted by future Prime Minister Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) it’s sticky times for the royal union.
The success of “Duchess” relies on energetic chemistry between Knightley and Fiennes but its much ado about nothing. Both stay true to their customary screen personas – hers the winsome enchantress cum fashionista and his the cruel, unfeeling wretch. Ne’er the twain do meet but for some fleeting sparks of frustration and resentment.
Juicy power struggles endure but the costumes take center stage, fantastically constricting creations as beautifully breathtaking as they must be wretchedly uncomfortable.
Period fans rejoice, the rest of us need more.