Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Duchess is Historically if not Politically Correct

The first movie I watched in 2011 was The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightly and Ralph Fiennes.

It's about 18th century aristocrat who was surely the talk of all the coffee houses. As the Duchess of Devonshire and leading fashionista by proxy, she was a trend-setter but also a deal-breaker who broke the mold by having an affair with Charles Grey. Knightly as Georgiana Spencer does an excellent job of showing her (secret) admiration for Grey, who was a rival but who stood for ideas like "freedom", a theme explored throughout the movie through the different compromises Spencer had to make for her family and herself as a woman. At one point the Duke takes her children hostage and threatens to destroy Grey's political career unless she resolves to remain with him and make the marriage work.

This movie showed how different the 'olden days' were, with the sexist assumption that while a man has certain "duties" to his wife, she wasn't able to enforce them on him. They were merely ideals. As a result, no wonder women were thought to be characterized by "trickery" and a low moral character. They had no rights to exercise! Men were free to have their romps but women were expected to remain "imprisoned" in their homes -a word Georgiana tactfully extracts from her husband's euphemistic language ordering her what to do. They were to have no pleasure, sexual or otherwise, for themselves. During an intimate conversation, Grey makes an observation about Georgiana to the effect that she worries too much what others think. She responds that she never thought of it but how petty that makes her seem! The first kiss that they share shows a building from Pride and Prejudice in the background, another period piece to which Knightly is well suited.

Although Keira Knightly is very easy on the eyes, movies like this can be hard for some to watch. Just as I have heard people's angry response to the series Mad Men because it's set in the 50's and thus portrays all of the sexism of that time without editing out history with a politically correct vengeance. It is hard to watch a wife come to the decision that allowing her husband to rape her is really the best choice for her children. You wish somehow that plot would get hijacked. That was the reality of the situation though! Poetic license doesn't work if you want to get a biography right.

I enjoyed this movie because it's an important love story without much love. It made me empathize with the 18th century woman. I felt that although I was lazing around with my laptop, I wasn't wasting time boobtubing. I was at least getting some sense of history.

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