Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Duchess

Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes star in the 2008 film The Duchess, nominated for two Oscars (art direction, costume design--Not terribly surprising for a period piece set in the late 1700's.) Fiennes plays Duke of Devonshire who, oddly enough, seems to be the only person NOT in love with his beautiful and charming wife Georgiana, played by Knightley. Her failure to produce a male heir adds to the tension they already experience in their marriage--perhaps due to G's unmet expectations, you know, that her husband be civil, tender, love her at least as much as his dogs, and possibly offer her a bit of the passion he tends to dole out to whatever handy serving wench he decides to bed next. Things turn up, at least temporarily, for G. when she befriends Lady Elizabeth. Though, that is really just the beginning of G's greatest happiness and her most difficult trials.

The story seemed rather sad to me. One of disappointment. Of loss of individual freedom. Of betrayal, and heartbreak. I had no idea it was based on real people--Duchess Georgiana (1757-1806), wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. Actually, the film is based on a book by Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I find it interesting that while watching the film, one of my companions speculated whether Princess Diana might have experienced a similar experience in a loveless marriage. Then as I read about the real Georgiana, I realized she was a Spencer... an ancestor of Diana's. I didn't love the film. I didn't particularly love the art direction or costumery... at least not in the way I adored the style of Coppola's Marie Antoinette, a few years ago. It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong. I just didn't adore it.

Here's a bit that I learned about the real woman:

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire was born Lady Georgiana Spencer on June 7th, 1757. Georgiana Cavendish was the first wife of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb. Among her descendants is the present Duke of Devonshire (via her granddaughter). Another was Diana, Princess of Wales (born Lady Diana Spencer), who was descended from Georgiana's brother, the 2nd Earl Spencer.

Georgiana Cavendish was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away.

Georgiana married William Cavendish on June 6, 1774. They has a son , William George Spencer Cavendish who became the 6th Duke of Devonshire and 2 daughters. They were Georgiana Cavendish (1783-1858) and Harriet Cavendish (1785-1862).

Georgiana was famous not only for her marital arrangements, her beauty and sense of style, her political campaigning, but also for her love of gambling. She was reported to have died deeply in debt, even though her own family the Spencers and her husband's family the Cavendishes were immensely wealthy.

During her years in the public eye, Georgiana was painted by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough's famous painting of her in a large French hat was lost for many years. It was purchased a decade ago by Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire for the Chatsworth collection.

taken from here.

1 comment:

Richard and Becky said...

Carm, my mom and I watched this movie and were disappointed too! We did enjoy the costumes, hair and speculated about any truth behind this story. i will have to fill her in! Thanks for the research ;0)

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