The Duchess is the story of the artistocracy of 18th Century England, but before you let that scare you off, I should tell you that it is one of the better period films I've seen. I've never been a big fan of the period film genre, ever since I was forced to suffer through reading things like "Pride & Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility," and "Great Expectations" in high school (they're classic novels, but possibly one of the quickest and most efficient ways to make teenage boys permanently lose interest in reading).Recently I read a review by a man who claims to be a professional film critic who complained that the "fictional story" of The Duchess just wasn't original enough for his tastes. I'm curious as to what he means by that, because my understanding is that the movie seeks to be a fairly faithful representation of the real life of Georgiana Spencer, who because the Duchess of Devonshire when she married the Duke in 1774. Thanks to China's broad disrespect of international copyright laws, however, I have remarkable access to DVDs, so it may just be that I was able to watch the extra features before him that show the movie's story chronicled in the real Duchess's own handwriting and thus I know more than he does about the movie.The movie takes place in the Georgian period, which was a time of high fashion and an emerging celebrity culture, and a growing feeling that there was a political environment that was on the wane and only needed something to come along and replace it.[caption id="attachment_22429" align="alignright" width="199" caption="The Duchess's carefree teenage years..."]The Duchess's carefree teenage years...[/caption]The Duke of Devonshire takes a liking to an astonished Georgiana early in the film, who had been spending her days relaxing on the estate with her girlfriends, gambling on races between young and handsome suitors. She enters into her marriage with dreams of a royal life and soon becomes the fashion spokeswoman for an absolutely enamored public.But she soon discovers her role as the Duke's wife, which is entirely limited to providing him with a male heir. Their relationship is loveless and stale to such an extent that her mother, who has her own reasons for maintaining the relationship between her daughter and the Duke, explains to her:"Certain obligations come with marriage, no matter how burdensome they may seem. Only through intercourse can you give the Duke a son, and then the occasions will become fewer and less determined."Fewer and less determined! This is the way a smart screenplay gives an intricately detailed picture of what's going on in the bedroom not only without gratuitous nudity, but without even using the bedroom scene. That's good writing!Immediately upon entering into her marriage with the Duke, Georgiana finds herself thrown into a position of political importance and relevance, which no other women of her time enjoyed, and she likes it. She displays a level of intelligence and political insight that immediately surprises her husband's male advisors. When one of them asks her why her way of dressing is always so intricately fashionable, she smartly responds, "You have so many ways of expressing yourselves, whereas we must make do with our hats and our dresses."The Duke's cold indifference to her manifests itself in multiple affairs that take place in plain sight, one of which results in a baby girl who he then moves into the estate to live with them, and ultimately an affair and ultimate marriage with a Lady Bess, whom he plucks from a marriage with an already unfaithful husband of her own and takes her on as his second wife. The exploration of the politics of relationships is much more important to the story than the real politics taking place in the background. Georgiana, meanwhile, is finding less and less reasons to hide her feelings for Charles Grey, one of the handsome young suitors that we met at the beginning of the movie.Ralph Fiennes finds a note of emotional removal from the world that reflects his marriage with both of his wives. He is absolutely emotionless throughout the entire movie, never offering a speck of emotion except for one scene when he reacts angrily to Georgiana's offer to accept his marriage to Lady Bess if he will accept her feelings for Charles Grey. He explains to Georgiana that he loves her in the way that he understands love, but that he never does anything that serves no purpose. His interest in marriage as well as sex does not seem to extend even an inch beyond the need to have a son.The Duchess is a romantic tragedy that tells the story of terrible suffering at the hands of a callous aristocratic hierarchy centered around the need to extend bloodlines and maintain political power. It was a time of stifled emotions and static arranged marriages, although it's interesting the way Georgiana used her fame to help Charles Grey run for political office. Kiera Knightly mentions on the DVD that we think of celebrity culture as this modern phenomenon, but here it was taking place with little differences centuries in the past. But then as now, it was all too often shrouded in a external gloss and internal strife.The Bean Meter[caption id="attachment_22432" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="4.5 Beans out of 5."]4.5 Beans out of 5.[/caption]