Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Duchess’ Looks Great, Ultimately Hollow

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CHICAGO – Every year produces a movie or two that dazzles with beautiful costumes and lavishly recreated period settings but falls flat when it comes to character. Saul Dibb’s “The Duchess” is a gorgeously rendered film, a great fit for the HD format of Blu-Ray, but lack of character leaves a film that feels hollow.

The Duchess was released by Paramount Home Video on December 28th, 2008.

Keira Knightley, so much better in last year’s “Atonement,” gets to wear most of the lavishly designed costumes in “The Duchess” as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a headstrong young woman forced to marry an emotionally distant Duke (Ralph Fiennes) in the 18th century. Knightley needs to prove that she can do something that doesn’t require wigs and costumes. It’s getting repetitive for an actress of her age to be so limited in the roles she chooses.

The Duchess was released by Paramount Home Video on December 28th, 2008.

Georgiana is a head-strong woman in a time and position that doesn’t really support female independence. Despite that, she becomes a fashion icon and celebrity in the social circles she runs in, until things get very complicated at home. The Duke takes a lover, Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), and the Duchess herself falls in love with an ambitious young politician names Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). “The Duchess” is a soap opera masquerading as serious drama with infidelity, love triangles, illegitimate children, social scandal, and gossip taking center stage over character.

“The Duchess” is a visual stunner and features a lovely score by Rachel Portman, nomination-worthy costume design by Michael O’Connor and an intriguing supporting performance by Ralph Fiennes, but if you take away the costumes and gorgeous sets, Dibb’s film is nothing but melodrama that would be right at home on a daytime soap opera. Great period pieces transport the viewer to another time. “The Duchess” never does.

“The Duchess” threatens to become more than just a series of melodramatic revelations and awkward conversations between Georgiana and The Duke, but feels too much like people playing dress-up and not genuine. It’s just a series of pretty pictures shot by a director who doesn’t let his film breathe enough for the characters to become real to the audience.

Now, of course, those pretty pictures are all the more vibrant on Blu-Ray and Paramount presents the film in 1080p High Definition with a striking Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. “The Duchess” looks and sounds spectacular on Blu-Ray and I think audiences will actually warm to the film much more with its few strengths amplified by the next-gen format than they did in theaters.

As for special features, “The Duchess” Blu-Ray disappoints. All that Paramount includes are three lonely featurettes, “How Far She Went…Making the Duchess,” “Georgiana In Her Own Words,” and “Costume Diary”. It’s a lackluster collection for a woman and a movie that never did anything in moderation.

‘The Duchess’ is released by Paramount Home Video and stars Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, and Charlotte Rampling, and was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen and Saul Dibb and directed by Dibb. It was released on December 28th, 2008. content director Brian Tallerico

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