The Duchess is a 2008 British drama film directed by Saul Dibb. It is based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. It was released in September 2008 in the United Kingdom. The film received the Academy Award for Best Costume Design at the 81st ceremony in 2009. The film costumer was Michael O'Connor.


The young Georgiana is contracted in marriage to William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, with the expectation that she produce his male heir. Georgiana is quickly disillusioned by her husband when Charlotte, a motherless child, comes to live with them while Georgiana is pregnant. William expects Georgiana to mother the child - his illegitimate child. When Georgiana gives birth to a girl, William is displeased.

Georgiana socializes with the young Lady Bess Foster at Bath and kindly invites her to live with them, since Bess has no where else to go. William has an affair with Bess, causing Georgiana to feel robbed of her only friend. Bess explains to Georgiana that her motive is to regain contact with her three sons and continues to live with them.

Georgiana starts an affair with Charles Grey. William is outraged when Georgiana suggests that since he has Bess, she should be allowed Charles as a distraction. William rapes Georgiana; a male child is the product.

Bess encourages the affair between Georgiana and Charles after the birth of Georgiana's son. Soon, the whole of London society come to know of Georgiana's affair. William threatens to end Charles' political career and to forbid Georgiana from seeing her children again if she does not end the relationship. After initially resisting, Georgiana realizes what Bess meant about there being no limit what one will do for their children. Georgiana ends her relationship with Grey, but tells William that she is pregnant with Charles' child. She is sent to the countryside where she secretly gives birth to their daughter, Eliza Courtney, who is given to the Grey family to raise as Charles' niece.

Georgiana finds comfort in Bess' friendship during her time of giving birth to Eliza. Georgiana and William come to terms with one another and, along with Bess, continue their lives together.

In the aftercredits, we find out Georgiana secretly visits her daughter Eliza. Eliza goes on to name her own daughter Georgiana, after her mother. Charles later becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom under [William IV]. Georgiana gives permission for William and Bess to marry before she dies.

Main cast


The Duchess was produced by British Qwerty Films and American Magnolia Mae Films, with financial support from BBC Films, French Pathé and Italian BIM Distribuzione.[2] The film was shot at Twickenham Film Studios and on location at Chatsworth, Bath, Holkham Hall, Clandon Park, Kedleston Hall, Somerset House, King's College London and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

Regarding lead actress Keira Knightley, director Saul Dibb said The Duchess was "a chance to take a character from late childhood – she's married at 17 – into full adulthood, 10 years later."[3] It was also a chance for Knightley to work with Ralph Fiennes, whom she regarded as one of her most accomplished co-stars to date; Dibb said, "When I said, 'We've got Ralph interested in playing the Duke', we both took a gulp and went, 'F---.' [sic] ... But I didn't for one second feel that she wasn't up to the task."[3] Originally the film was to be directed by Susanne Bier.[4]



The film advertisements which featured Diana, Princess of Wales caused the film to be branded "crudely promoted"

Studio executives wanted to use digitally altered images of Keira Knightley in promotional materials. The alterations were specifically aimed at enlarging her breasts. Knightley objected to the alterations, and they were not used.[5] The marketing campaign also drew criticism for its use of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was an indirect descendant of Georgiana's. The advertising used slogans such as "two women related by ancestry and united by destiny" and used "There were three people in her marriage," the latter being an almost identical copy of a famous quote that Diana, Princess of Wales uttered during her Panorama interview. Michael Hellicar of the Daily Mail stated that "the Diana link is being so heavily, and it has to be said, so cynically and crudely promoted."[6]

Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, criticised the marketing strategy too, saying, "They probably thought the only way to get the young popcorn-eating brigade to see the film was if they thought it was about Diana, but it wasn't necessary and they should never have done that. And the line 'united by destiny' is wrong. I don't think Georgiana actually died in a carriage crash."[6]

Theatrical release

The BBFC has classified the film as a 12A, citing the scene of implied marital rape, which is "delivered through Georgiana's screams of protest, heard from outside the bedroom door." The BBFC's PG rating allows implied sex as long as it is discreet and infrequent; the board decided that the scene in The Duchess is more than "discreet" or "implied".[7] The film had its world premiere on 3 September 2008, in Leicester Square and was released nationwide in the United Kingdom on 5 September.[8] [9]

Critical response

The film received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 61% based on 163 reviews, with the consensus that "While The Duchess treads the now-familiar terrain of the corset-ripper, the costumes look great and Keira Knightley's performance is stellar in this subtly feminist, period drama."[10]

Most reviewers highly praised Knightley and Fiennes' performances. Time Out London wrote: "[Saul Dibb] is also helped enormously by a mature, restrained portrayal from Knightley, a masterclass in passive aggression from Fiennes and a performance of tender seduction from Atwell."[11] The Epoch Times writes, "Ralph Fiennes brings a human quality to [the Duke] by avoiding any intent, exaggeration or ill will" and "Keira Knightley's performance gains new depth – she not only perfectly portrays a witty and feminine Georgiana early in the film, but also a caring mother, and an abandoned woman later on. Also remarkable in this role is Knightley's ability to portray the strengths, weaknesses, and the internal hurdles of Georgiana, as well as her internal contemplation."[12] Film Ireland writes "It is a slow movie but it is well acted with Knightley and Fiennes suited to their roles, especially Fiennes who gives a formidable and powerful performance."[13] Cameron Bailey, the co-chair of the Toronto International Film Festival comments, "The Duchess Of Devonshire, with Keira Knightley, which is a beautiful film and she gives a really mature performance. You're seeing her really turn into something beyond the kind of pretty face that we've seen her do already so well. But she's actually a very serious actress and she's turning into a great, great performer."[14]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote that "Dibb's movie looks good" but complained the film was "exasperatingly bland and slow-moving at all times" handing out a 2 of 5 star rating. However, Paul Hurley gave the film 8/10 and called The Duchess "an excellent new film" and states that "The Duchess stands a good chance of taking home some very big prizes at the end of the year".[15]


Awards ceremony Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[16] Best Costume Design Michael O'Connor Won
Best Art Direction Michael Carlin and Rebecca Alleway Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[17] Best Costume Design Michael O'Connor Won
Best Make-Up and Hair Daniel Phillips and Jan Archibald Nominated
British Independent Film Awards[18] Best Actress Keira Knightley Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Hayley Atwell Nominated
Best Technical Achievement Michael O'Connor (Costume) Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle British Actor of the Year Ralph Fiennes Nominated
British Actress in a Supporting Role Hayley Atwell Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[19][20] Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Nominated
People's Choice Awards[21] Favorite Actress Keira Knightley Nominated
Favorite Independent Movie The Duchess Nominated
Satellite Awards[22] Best Art Direction and Production Design Karen Wakefield and Michael Carlin Nominated
Best Cinematography Gyula Pados Nominated
Best Costume Design Michael O'Connor Won


  1. ^ The Daily Telegraph, 16 August 2008: On-set report: The Duchess Re-linked 2013-12-16
  2. ^ DAWTREY, Adam (29 July 2007) Keira Knightley set for Duchess: Actress to play the controversial blueblood, Variety
  3. ^ a b "2008 Fall Movie Guide: Preview: The Duchess". Entertainment Weekly, Issue #1007/1008. Time Inc. 22–29 August 2008. p. 50. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  4. ^ (18 September 2006) Susanne Bier finds The Duchess: Open Hearts helmer glamming up for period love story, Total Film
  5. ^ Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld. Fox News. Broadcast date: 30 July 2008.
  6. ^ a b Michael Hellicar (2008-08-29). "Diana and me – by Keira ... or how movie marketers used the princess' troubled marriage to promote The Duchess". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  7. ^ "The Duchess rated 12A by the BBFC" British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved on 13 August 2008.
  8. ^ Pamela McClintock (2008-03-31). "2008 awards season shaping up". Variety. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  9. ^ "Knightley stars at Duchess launch". BBCNews. 2008-09-03. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  10. ^ "The Duchess (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. 
  11. ^ "The Duchess". Time Out London. 9 February 2008. 
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ [2][dead link]
  14. ^ "Brad Pitt And Keira Knightley Among Big Names Confirmed For T.O. Film Fest - CityNews Toronto". Citynews.ca. 19 August 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2017. 
  15. ^ TalkTalk web studio. "The Duchess review". tiscali.co.uk. 
  16. ^ AA (2009-01-22). "Oscars 2009 Nominations =Academy Awards". Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  17. ^ "Film Winners in 2009". bafta.org. British Academy Film Awards. Retrieved 8 February 2009. 
  18. ^ "BIFA 2008 Nominations". Bifa.org.uk. 2008-12-13. Retrieved 2008-12-13. 
  19. ^ Silverman, Stephen (2008-12-11). "Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt Score Golden Globe Nods". People. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  20. ^ "Nominations & Winners". Golden Globes. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  21. ^ PCA (2008-12-13). "PCA Nominations =People's Choice Awards". Retrieved 2008-12-13. 
  22. ^ none (2008-12-13). "2008 13th Annual SATELLITE Awards Nominees=Satellite Awards". Retrieved 2008-12-13. 

External links