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A vibrant beauty and celebrity of her time is trapped in an unhappy triangle with her husband and his live-in mistress. She falls passionately in love with an ambitious young politician, and the affair causes a bitter conflict with her husband and threatens to erupt into a scandal.
For more about The Duchess and the The Duchess Blu-ray release, see the The Duchess Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 9, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Simon McBurney
Director: Saul Dibb
» See full cast & crew
The Duchess Blu-ray Review
Is 'The Duchess' Blu-ray royalty?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 9, 2009
When one truly loves someone, one doesn't have to know them well to be sure.
One need look no further than the opulently-dressed characters that adorn the poster for The Duchess to get a feel for what's in store. In fact, the film's very title implies historical costume drama, and indeed, The Duchess is a window into Britain's lavish and lurid ton of the late 18th century. Like many other films of this sort, The Duchess is beautiful to look at, though its grandeur lies only skin-deep. Below the surface, behind the ornately-decorated palaces, and underneath the elaborate costumes is a dark, disturbing undercurrent of anger, hate, and lust, a byproduct of power, desire, and tradition run amok. Unfortunately, the film parallels the time in which it is set. Director Saul Dibb's film boasts Oscar-worthy set design and costuming, but its positives are mostly superficial. The film often feels hollow, meaningless, and dull, with dry performances all around, save for that turned in by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
Like The Other Boleyn Girl, for example, The Duchess focuses on a British aristocrat's demand that the woman in his life bear him a male heir. Here, that aristocrat is the Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish (Fiennes). He enters into an arranged marriage with the much younger Georgiana (Keira Knightley, King Arthur), a girl who naively believes the Duke to love her. No sooner than they are married does she come to realize the Duke is only interested in infidelity, his dogs, and her ability to bear him a son, certainly showing no interest in conversing with and caring for his wife. After years of Georgiana failing to birth a son, the Duke enters into an open affair with Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell), Georgiana's best friend. Georgiana, upset with the lurid affair, desires to enter into an adulterous relationship of her own with politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), though the Duke expressly forbids it, despite his own infidelities. As the story moves along, the Duchess must choose to live life as expected of a woman in her position, or to rebel against social norms and embrace her feelings for the rising political star.
The Duchess is a period piece that in no way distinguishes itself from others of its kind. It plays on the same tired themes with equally tired, stuffy characters that audiences have seen (or perhaps, better said endured) time and again. In that way, it's really no different than any other genre; they all have their core stories, in one way or another many featuring the same basic plot, simply shot, told, and acted so as to create an individual identity in the face of recurring themes. For the English costume period drama, particularly those dealing with royalty, those themes include a demand for a male heir, angry and adulterous aristocratic husbands, rebellious wives and mistresses, and plenty of steamy, forbidden passions. The Duchess never fails to embrace each and every one of these themes. Unfortunately, the themes are superficial and expected, and there is no meaning behind the story. The Duchess frequently plays out as more of an excuse to showcase glamourous costumes and extravagant locales, which do indeed make for sumptuous eye candy, but at its core, The Duchess lacks a heart, and arguably, a reason for its existence. All said, The Duchess is a competently made and acted film. Though Keira Knightley fails to show much spirit in her role, her opposite, the dependable Ralph Fiennes, plays his character with frightening realism, the character both easy to hate yet oddly intriguing as he brazenly shows contempt for his wife and the very vows he agreed to uphold.
The Duchess Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Duchess adorns Blu-ray with a generally strong 1080p transfer, lavishly framed inside a 2.35:1 window. The picture quality is generally excellent, with sometimes breathtaking color reproduction. Lush green fields contrast with bright blue skies, and the ornately decorated and colored wardrobe that adorn the various characters seen in the film's first frames, showcase the film's Blu-ray quality. The subsequent interior shots are warm and inviting, highly natural and impeccably rendered on Blu-ray. Detail, too, is remarkable; the finely furnished interiors reveal the finest of nuances: the ornate furniture, the packed bookshelves, and the beautiful hardwood floors all come to vivid life in 1080p high definition. Background details, too, are mostly sharp and well defined. Grain is never seen in abundance, but it is there, seen more against darker backgrounds than bright ones. There are many instances where the film looks overblown and far too bright, which washes out some detail, but not much. Some darker scenes, those in a playhouse in chapter six, for example, even appear as if there is a haze over the image. Blacks, too, sometimes appear more of a dark shade of gray rather than true, deep black. Flesh tones never present much of a problem, though. No doubt, costume dramas like The Duchess favor high definition signals, and while every inch of the transfer isn't impeccable, more often than not the material delivers awe-inspiring imagery on Blu-ray.
The Duchess Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Paramount delivers The Duchess to Blu-ray with a quality Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Much like the video, the soundtrack is warm and inviting, with each note of the score flowing gracefully from the front speakers. Despite only a hint of a rear channel presence, there is a sense of immersion about the music, with Oscar Winner Rachel Portman's (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2) fine score oftentimes overshadowing the story and acting. Sound effects travel perfectly across the soundstage; the beating of hooves, the rolling of carriages, or the barking of dogs in expansive entryways all manage to create a fine, realistic atmosphere. Subtle nuances, like the crackling of a fire, add the last bit of realism to the track to make it a fine, natural, not aggressive, but certainly real-sounding mix. Dialogue, too, is reproduced with nary a hiccup. While The Duchess certainly does not provide an invigorating workout for any sound system, it instead plays like a nice, relaxing, rejuvenating experience that makes for a pleasing listen.
The Duchess Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Duchess graces Blu-ray with precious few supplements. How Far She Went...Making 'The Duchess' (1080i, 22:48) is a six-part making-of feature that looks at the true-life history of the characters in the film and casting the right actors to portray them, shooting locations, and the costumes of the film. Georgiana In Her Own Words (1080i, 7:11) features the author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshie sharing the letters that inspired her book and the film. Costume Diary (1080i, 5:37) takes a closer look at the film's elaborate costumes. Concluding the supplements are two theatrical trailers for The Duchess (1080p, 1:51 & 2:34).
The Duchess Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Certainly, most viewers should be able to discern their level of interest in a film like The Duchess based simply on three words: historical costume drama. Described in those terms, this film doesn't disappoint, delivering exactly the kind of story, mood, set design, and costuming as advertised. The film stays within the confines of everything expected of it, and its core audiences should be pleased enough with the material, though moviegoers more attuned to big-budget Action, Sci-Fi, Horror, or Comedy fare may be best served to look elsewhere for their entertainment needs. Paramount's Blu-ray release of The Duchess is suitable, delivering mostly breathtaking 1080p imagery, a full, warm, and inviting lossless soundtrack, and a few supplements that don't offer a whole lot in the way of value-added material. While this Blu-ray release of The Duchess will not likely appeal to the current core Blu-ray audience, those wishing to add it to their collections should not be hesitant to do so as the disc is technically strong.
The Duchess: Other Editions
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The Duchess Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Duchess Announced for Blu-ray - November 20, 2008
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Keira Knightley film 'The Duchess' to Blu-ray on December 18th, day-and-date with the DVD release. For this true story also starring Ralph Fiennes, video will be presented in 1080p accompanied ...
• Ghost Town and The Dutchess Coming Soon - November 18, 2008
In an early report to retailers, Paramount Home Entertainment has revealed that they will bring 'Ghost Town' and 'The Duchess' to Blu-ray on December 27th, day-and-date with the DVD release. For these two titles, video will be presented in 1080p accompanied by ...
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