When I first saw the trailer for the movie, “The Duchess,” starrring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, I was immediately intrigued. I love historically based movies (no, kidding, right?) and I wasted no time in snooping online to find out just exactly who this “Duchess” was.
From the moment I began to read about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, I was hooked. She is exactly the type of historical figure I admire, and her story is very unconventional. My favorite kind!
I finally saw the movie last week, and I have to say, even this small glimpse into the Duchess’ life was amazing.
As a young girl who seemed to have the world at her fingertips, I am sure marriage to a very prestigious Duke was the icing on the cake for Georgiana. Poor girl could not have been more mistaken about how her life was to be. Of course, in those times, a woman really couldn’t expect much from a marriage, as such things were arranged without much consideration for the bride in question. But, as it turns out, the Duchess of Devonshire had more to contend with than most wives of her day.
Lack of common interests and a string of mistresses and miscarriages served to drive her and the Duke apart. Georgiana is forced to raise her husband’s bastard daughter after the girl’s mother dies, which she handled with grace and dignity, always treating the child with kindness. I am sure Georgiana must have been so disheartened at the state of her marriage, wanting to bear the Duke the son he so desperately needed and wanted. The Duchess eventually succeeded in giving the Duke his desire, giving him two daughters and a son.
In the movie, you get a glimpse into how Georgiana reacted to the strains of marriage, how the unexpected heartbreaks, such as the miscarriages, and then eventually a betrayal by her best friend shape her and her ideals. It could not have been easy to have one the thing near and dear to her, with the exception of her children, taken away by her husband. Befriending Elizabeth Foster, helping her when she was in a desperate situation, and then being utterly betrayed by her had to be quite a crushing blow. Even in modern times, that is pretty ruthless and just plain rotten behavior from a dear friend.
As if that weren’t bad enough, being forced to live in a menage-a-trois of sorts with her husband and Elizabeth. Elizabeth lived with them as if she were also married to the Duke and I am convinced that this was both hurtful and humiliating for Georgiana. But, like all historical female figures I admire, she rises above it and manages to make the best of the life handed to her.
She was a fashion icon of her time, she hosted “salons” with some of the most popular and intriguing writers, artists, poets, and figures of the “Whig” party. She also loved to gamble and go to parties frequently, even though the Duke and her parents did not approve.
The most difficult part of the movie for me was when Georgiana confessed she was pregnant as a result of her affair with Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. Her husband, the Duke, forced her to give the child up to Charles’ family. It was excruciating to watch as she hands the baby over to Charles’ father and the baby is crying and she is just completely torn up, watching the baby go. I do not even want to imagine how that must have felt. Being a mother myself, it tore at my heart. Fortunately, at the end, we do find that the Duchess eventually has a secret relationship with her daughter, whom she names Eliza. It’s a small comfort in the face of such sadness.
All in all, I felt the movie was done wonderfully, and tastefully. The only complaint I have is that I felt things were glossed over fairly quickly, only concentrating on a small frame of time in the Duchess’ life. It left me wondering about quite a few things. I have decided to find a copy of Amanda Foreman’s “The Duchess” as soon as possible, so I can get a more detailed and in depth understanding of Georgiana. I am very much looking forward to the read!
***All images found via Google Image search