The Duchess (film)

The Duchess is a 2008 historical drama film directed by Saul Dibb. It is based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the late 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. She was an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, where the quote ‘There were three people in her marriage’ in the promotional poster comes from. It was released in September 2008 in the United Kingdom. The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and was nominated for Best Art Direction.

The Duchess
Duchess poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySaul Dibb
Written byJeffrey Hatcher
Anders Thomas Jensen
Saul Dibb
Based onGeorgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
by Amanda Foreman
Produced byMichael Kuhn
Gabrielle Tana
StarringKeira Knightley
Ralph Fiennes
Charlotte Rampling
Dominic Cooper
Hayley Atwell
Simon McBurney
Aidan McArdle
John Shrapnel
CinematographyGyula Pados
Edited byMasahiro Hirakubo
Music byRachel Portman
Qwerty Films
Magnolia Mae Films
BBC Films[1]
Distributed byPathé Distribution (United Kingdom and France)
BIM Distribuzione (Italy)
Paramount Vantage (United States)
Release dates
  • 5 September 2008 (2008-09-05) (United Kingdom)
  • 10 October 2008 (2008-10-10) (United States)
  • 12 November 2008 (2008-11-12) (France)
  • 23 December 2008 (2008-12-23) (Italy)
Running time
110 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget£13.5 million[2]
Box office$43.3 million


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, especially when Charlotte, an illegitimate child fathered by William whose mother has died, comes to live with them while Georgiana is pregnant. William expects Georgiana to tolerate the child's presence. He also suggests that she "practise mothering" on the young girl. When Georgiana gives birth to a girl, William is displeased. In his mind, he has fulfilled his obligations to her as her husband but, by failing to provide him with a legitimate male heir, she has failed in her obligations as his wife.

Georgiana becomes a leading light in fashionable society. She socialises with the young Lady Bess Foster at Bath and invites her to live with them since Bess has nowhere else to go. William has an affair with Bess, causing Georgiana to feel robbed of her only friend and betrayed by Bess. Bess tells Georgiana that her motive is to regain her three sons (whom her husband has taken from her), so she 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. 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 learns of Georgiana's affair. William threatens to end Charles's political career and forbid Georgiana from seeing her children again if she does not end the relationship. After initially refusing, Georgiana ends her relationship with Grey but tells William that she is pregnant with Charles' child. She is sent to the countryside where she gives birth to her daughter with Grey, Eliza Courtney, who is given to the Grey family to raise as Charles' niece.

Georgiana finds comfort in Bess's 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.

The after-credits reveal Georgiana secretly visits her daughter Eliza. Eliza goes on to name her own daughter Georgiana, after her mother. Charles later becomes Prime Minister under William IV. Before she dies, Georgiana permits William and Bess to marry.



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.[3] 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."[4] 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."[4] Originally, the film was to be directed by Susanne Bier.[5]



The film advertisements which featured Diana, Princess of Wales were criticised by Knightley and Amanda Foreman, the author of the film's source material.[6]

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.[7] Although multiple media reports suggested that the use of parallels between the central character's life and that of Diana, Princess of Wales was being used as a marketing strategy for the project, Knightley denied any such connection.[8]

Theatrical releaseEdit

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".[9] The film had its world premiere on 3 September 2008, in Leicester Square and was released nationwide in the United Kingdom on 5 September.[10][11]

Critical responseEdit

The film received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 62% based on 170 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The site's consensus reads: "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."[12] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 62 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]

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."[14] 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."[15] 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."[16]

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".[17]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing, "I deeply enjoyed the film, but then I am an Anglophile. I imagine the behavior of the characters will seem exceedingly odd to some viewers. Well, it is."[18]


Awards ceremony Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[19] Best Art Direction Michael Carlin and Rebecca Alleway Nominated
Best Costume Design Michael O'Connor Won
British Academy Film Awards[20] Best Costume Design Michael O'Connor Won
Best Make-Up and Hair Daniel Phillips and Jan Archibald Nominated
British Independent Film Awards[21] 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[22][23] Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Nominated
People's Choice Awards[24] Favorite Actress Keira Knightley Nominated
Favorite Independent Movie The Duchess Nominated
Satellite Awards[25] 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 Duchess (2008)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  2. ^ Gritten, David (16 August 2008). "On-set report: The Duchess" The Daily Telegraph Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  3. ^ Dawtrey, Adam (29 July 2007) Keira Knightley set for Duchess: Actress to play the controversial blueblood, Variety
  4. ^ a b "2008 Fall Movie Guide: Preview: The Duchess". Entertainment Weekly. No. 1007/1008. 22–29 August 2008. p. 50. Retrieved 2 October 2008.
  5. ^ (18 September 2006) Susanne Bier finds The Duchess: Open Hearts helmer glamming up for period love story, Total Film
  6. ^ Jessica, Salter (24 August 2008). "Keira Knightley angry at Diana comparison". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  7. ^ Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld. Fox News. Broadcast date: 30 July 2008.
  8. ^ Cox, David (8 September 2008). "Keira should wear Di's tiara with pride". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  9. ^ "The Duchess rated 12A by the BBFC Archived 11 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine" British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved on 13 August 2008.
  10. ^ McClintock, Pamela (31 March 2008). "2008 awards season shaping up". Variety. Retrieved 1 April 2008.
  11. ^ "Knightley stars at Duchess launch". BBC News. 3 September 2008. Retrieved 4 September 2008.
  12. ^ "The Duchess (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  13. ^ "The Duchess". Metacritic.
  14. ^ "The Duchess". Time Out London. 9 February 2008.
  15. ^ "The Duchess". Film Ireland. Archived from the original on 22 December 2008. Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  16. ^ "Brad Pitt And Keira Knightley Among Big Names Confirmed For T.O. Film Fest". CityNews Toronto. 19 August 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  17. ^ "The Duchess". Tiscali UK. Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (25 September 2008). "Duchess of a private kingdom". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 9 October 2019 – via
  19. ^ "And The Nominees Are..." Perez Hilton. 22 January 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Film Winners in 2009". British Academy Film Awards. Archived from the original on 17 January 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  21. ^ "Nominations 2008". British Independent Film Awards. 13 December 2008. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  22. ^ Silverman, Stephen (11 December 2008). "Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt Score Golden Globe Nods". People. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  23. ^ "Hollywood Foreign Press Association 2008 Golden Globe Awards Nominations for the Year Ended December 31, 2008" (Press release). Hollywood Foreign Press Association. 11 December 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  24. ^ "PCA Nominations People's Choice Awards". 13 December 2008. Archived from the original on 10 December 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  25. ^ Adams, Ryan (30 November 2008). "Satellite Award Nominees". AwardsDaily. Retrieved 8 April 2020.

External linksEdit