Same old, same old

Kiera Knightly brilliantly rehashes the same character that she has played dozens of times now: the bright, sassier-than-socially-acceptable young woman whose inner struggle centers around her desire to be well-liked by the public and be true to herself. While Knightly fits beautifully as The Duchess of Devonshire, the role is uncomfortably familiar.

As a young woman, Georgiana is married to the Duke of Devonshire. She quickly realizes that the Duke is only interested in her ability to produce a male heir, and that he expects her to turn a blind eye to the many affairs that he conducts with other women. Their marriage becomes more strained as Georgiana gives birth to two girls.

While Georgiana is scorned by her husband, the adoration that the public has for her only increases. Both a fashion icon and an influential political activist, Georgiana is the attention-capturing socialite that the Whig party needs to grab the public’s attention.

During one of the parties she attends, Georgiana meets a young woman named Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell) who’s socially awkward, pathetically honest comments make her instantly unlikable. She and Georgiana become fast friends nonetheless, and Georgiana pushes the Duke to allow Elizabeth to live with them. The not-so-shocking consequence is the long-term affair that the Duke conducts with Elizabeth in Georgiana’s home.

For the rest of the movie, Elizabeth attempts to regain Georgiana’s friendship, going so far as to push her towards Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). More sparks fly from Georgiana’s hat than they do between Georgiana and Grey.

The romantic story between them is underdeveloped and unconvincing, forcing the audience to accept that a youthful game and a chance encounter provide sufficient foundations for a passionate love affair.

The best performances of the film are provided by the other gentlemen of the cast. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as Georgiana’s cold, distant and occasionally cruel husband. His performance leaves the audience struggling between hatred for him and the faint, nagging sympathy that he inspires.

Simon McBurney and Aidan McArdle are equally entertaining as the primary members of Georgiana’s posse, leaving the audience wishing that they’d worked their way onto the screen more often. McBurney shines as Charles Fox, an influential and passionate political figure. Similarly, McArdle’s clever portrayal of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan distinguishes him from his other cast members, despite the relatively small size of his role.

While the plot and performances are solid, the most captivating aspect of the film is undoubtedly the costumes. The Duchess is visually astounding, combining beautiful cinematography with several masterpieces of cloth and beading that could make any modern-woman long for a corset and petticoat (well, for a trial period, anyway). Any history buff, fashion enthusiast or person who just wants to hear Voldemort say “I love you,” should add The Duchess to their list of must-sees.