The Duchess (2008)




Director:     Saul Dibb.

Starring:     Keira Knightley (Georgiana), Ralph Fiennes (The Duke), Charlotte Rampling (Lady Spencer), Dominic Cooper (Charles Grey), Hayley Atwell (Bess Foster), Simon McBurney (Charles Fox), Aidan McArdle (Richard Sheridan), John Shrapnel (General Grey), Alistair Petrie (Heaton), Patrick Godfrey (Dr. Neville), Michael Medwin (Speechmaker), Justin Edwards (Macaroni), Richard McCabe (Sir James Hare), Calvin Dean (Devonshire House Servant), Hannah Stokely (Devonshire House Maid), Andrew Armour (Burleigh), Emily Jewell (Nanny), Bruce Mackinnon (Sir Peter Teazle), Georgia King (Lady Teazle), Luke Norris (Footman), Eva Hrela (Charlotte, Age 3), Poppy Wigglesworth (Charlotte, Age 9), Emily Cohen (Harryo), Mercy Fiennes Tiffin (Little G), Sebastian Applewhite (Augustus), Angus McEwan (Lord Robert), Kate Burdette (Lady Harriet), Laura Stevely (Lady Elizabeth), Benjamin Noble (Lord Ambrose), Max Bennett (Lord Walter), Camilla Arfwedson (Lady Charlotte).

terrible situation for women in Britain as illustrated by the marital problems of the Duchess of Devonshire (married 1774)


Spoiler Warning:


Althorp Estate, England. April 1774.  Georgiana Spencer has a hatful of the names of young Lords.  She asks the young noble women to pick a name out of the hat.  Georgiana is the last to draw and she gets Lord Charles Grey.  She tells him that he had better win this foot race because she has bet money on his winning.  The race starts and Georgiana roots for her Charles to win. 

Inside the great house the Duke watches Georgiana from a window.  Lady Spencer says she hopes the Duke still finds Georgiana an attractive girl.  Of course.  So, the marriage of the Duke with Georgiana is settled. Georgiana's happiness is short-lived, as a servant tells her that her mother wants to see her. 

Lady Spencer tells her daughter that she is speaking to her daughter, the soon-to-be Her Grace, the Duchess of Devonshire.  Georgiana is flabbergasted.  She says she has only met the Duke twice.  Mother assures her that doesn't matter.  She also assures her daughter that she will be happy.  Georgiana says:  "I shall, Mama.  I know I shall." 

She marries the Duke. 

In the Duke's fancy coach, the noble couple arrive in Devonshire and the people of the town welcome them heartily.  The couple go to their castle. 

Devonshire House, London.  [Devonshire House in Piccadilly was the London residence of the Dukes of Devonshire in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was built for William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire in the Palladian style, to designs by William Kent. Completed circa 1740, empty after World War I and demolished in 1924 and is now the estate is Green Park.]  The house is located in the City of Westminster on Piccadilly Road running from Hyde Park Corner in the west to Piccadilly Circus in the east.

Alone in the bedroom, the Duke takes Georgiana's clothes off.  He asks her if she would go to the bed?  She goes.  She looks nervous.  The Duke joins her on the bed. 

Georgiana complains to her mother that the Duke never talks to her.  And the only thing he seems to be interested in his dogs.  Mother tells her not to be so hard on the Duke and, anyway, what is there to talk about?  Sarcastically, Georgiana replies:  "How foolish of me to think that I should be able to converse with my husband."  Mother says that as soon as her daughter gives birth to a boy, she will see how things will get better. 

The Duke and Duchess host a grand dinner and Whig politician, Charles Fox, says the Whigs believe it is just and right to bring independence to America and to abolish the slave trade.  One of the guests asks the Duchess what she thinks about the just delivered speech?  Georgiana is very intelligent and very outspoken.  She takes the position that one either is free or is not.  Freedom is an absolute.  Only giving some the of common men the right to vote seems to her to be too small of a step.  This outspokenness disturbs the Duke greatly and he leaves the table.  Everyone rises as he does so. 

Now the men turn to look at the Duchess.  She quickly goes after her husband.  The Duke pretends he is not bothered by anything that happened, but he says he is bored with political speeches and adds that perhaps they should be banned at future dinner parties.  Georgiana reminds him that he is the main supporter of the Whigs.  The Duke says he loves the politics, but just abhors the rhetoric. He walks away.

The Duchess goes back to face the two long lines of gentlemen at the dinner table.  (I wouldn't want to be her.)  She just tells the men that the Duke just wanted to rest awhile.  "Do sit down, gentlemen."  Fox asks her if his speech was too long for the Duke?  The feisty Duchess replies:  "Certainly not.  He enjoyed it immensely and expressed a hope that next time it would be even longer."

On her way to the bedroom, the Duchess sees one of the chamber maids rush out of the room naked, grabbing her dress in front of her.  The Duchess asks her husband what is going on and says she doesn't understand.  The Duke says this is nothing of concern to her.  He wants to have sex with his wife. 

At the dinner table, the now pregnant Duchess is unexpectedly introduced to the little girl named Charlotte.  The Duke says she will be staying with them.  Georgiana asks why?  The Duke has the little girl removed from the room.  He tells his wife because the mother of the little girl is dead and she has no place to go.  She asks if her husband has fathered the child?  He acts as if it's nothing.  The little girl will not be a bother to her.  In fact, Georgiana could practice her motherly skills on Charlotte.  Now, he turns his attention to his two large dogs and treats them with great kindness and concern, totally opposite to the way he treated his wife. 

At bed time the Duchess goes to see little Charlotte.  She says hello and gives her name as Georgiana. 

At a game or roulette, Georgiana starts having labor pains.  She has to leave the table.  Her husband announces a toast to the Sixth Duke of Devonshire. 

Mother comes to visit Georgiana, but first runs into the Duke.  He is obviously, very disappointed that the child was not a boy.  Mother tries to cheer him up, but he won't be cheered up.

Mother comes in to see the baby.  Georgiana comments about her husband:  "He just glanced at her and then left.  I've hardly seen him since."  She adds that she herself will nurse the baby, "even if she's only a girl".

Six years later.  There are three little girls now:  Charlotte, Little G. and Harryo. 

The City of Bath.  The Duchess of Devonshire, the empress of fashion herself,  receives an enthusiastic reception.  At the ball, the Duke goes over to speak with Bess Foster.  The Duchess looks a little worried when she sees them together, but is heartened when Bess suddenly leaves his side.  She goes over to speak with Georgiana.  The woman introduces herself:  Lady Elizabeth Foster.  Georgiana is thrilled to hear that when Bess was asked to dance with the Duke, she declined.  Bess says:  "I'm ill at ease with male company for the moment."

What brings Bess to Bath?  "My husband, Mr. Foster, is enjoying his mistress in Bournemouth and I wanted some diversion."  The Duchess says she's here so the Duke can take the water for his gout.  Georgiana says that they must see each other again.  Bess agrees.

The two women do meet again.  Bess says that she has three boys.  Georgiana introduces her new friend Lady Elizabeth to her three girls.  Later the two women talk.  Georgiana says she's had two stillborns, both male.  She notices a bad bruise on her friend's neck and asks about it.  Bess hesitates and then says:  "It's not illegal for a man to beat his wife with a stick unless the stick is thicker than his thumb."  But, says Bess, that's not the worst he's done.  "He's taken my children.  He won't let me see them."

Georgiana tells Bess that she can live with the Duke and her.  At dinner Georgiana explains Bess' position and, actually, the Duke asks why can't she stay with them?  (That was easy.)

Georgiana plays a part in what plays will be put on.  She chooses one, School for Scandal, that critiques her own situation and this upsets the Duke.  It was written by her friend, Mr. Sheridan. 

Georgiana introduces Mr. Fox to Lady Elizabeth and Fox introduces his protégé, Charles Grey.  Grey is already a member of Parliament.  Georgiana can't speak with Grey for long because Mr. Sheridan comes along and grabs her. 

Back home, Bess tells Georgiana that Mr. Grey is in love with Georgiana.  Bess starts encouraging a relationship between the two people.  While speaking of Grey, Bess kisses Georgiana's back and neck.  She then masturbates Georgiana to a climax.   

Georgiana runs into Grey at another big ball.  The Duchess asks how the election is coming and Charles says it's going terribly.  So the Duchess volunteers to speak on behalf of Charles before masses of potential voters.

After her first appearance with Charles, he thanks her for tripling his usual crowd size.  She asks him:  "Do you think of me, when we're not together?"  He says she ought to know that he does.  It's just that she asked him so directly.  He says he thinks of her all the time. Their conversation is broken up when a servant tells the Duchess that her carriage is ready.  Georgiana walks out of the room with a big smile on her face. 

Coming home, Georgiana catches two servants listening at the door the the bedroom of Lady Elizabeth.  She then hears the sounds of making love and asks the servants who's in the bedroom with Lady Elizabeth.  The two servants just keep their heads bowed and walk away.  That makes a double betrayal for Georgiana and perhaps Bess's betrayal is the worst of the two betrayals. 

In her own bedroom, Georgiana complains about the Duke taking her friend with which to have sex.  She has tolerated the multiple affairs of the Duke, but this betrayal is the one that really bothers her.  She shouts:  "She is my sole comfort in our marriage.  You have robbed me of my only friend!"  The Duke says he has fulfilled his obligations as a husband to her, but she has not fulfilled her obligations to him.  There is no male heir. 

Georgiana shouts at her husband that Bess is never to set foot in her home again.  She wants her gone!  Hubby says that Georgiana forgets herself (or, rather, forgets her place).  Lady Elizabeth overhears all of the conversation.  And she hears the Duke tells Georgiana that he will not ask Lady Elizabeth to leave. 

Georgina goes to her mother to tell her what to do.  Lady Spencer is shocked at the Duke's behavior.  Mother tells her that under the circumstances Georgiana has no choice but to go back home and resume her duties.  She must continue trying to have a male child. 

The Duchess returns.  Her husband greets her, but the only thing she says is his name:  "William."

Lady Elizabeth comes to see the Duchess.  She says she wants to explain.  Georgiana wants her to leave her her.  Bess says that she did what she did because this was her only way of getting her children back.  Georgiana tells her again to get out.  Bess leaves. 

Georgiana sees Bess re-united with her three boys. 

Georgiana meets with Charles Grey.  After a few tense minutes they kiss and kiss again. 

All three parties meet at the breakfast table.  Georgiana tells the other two that she has decided to give them her blessing, as long as they accept her feelings for Charles Grey.  The Duke really gets angry and asks her if she is committed to making him the laughing stock of the community?  First, he can't sire a male heir with his wife, then his wife makes him a cuckold.  Georgiana says that William has Bess and the three boys.  William asks Georgiana does she think he could make those three bastards his heirs?   Georgiana leaves the room in a hurry.  William comes after her.  In the bedroom he rapes her. 

He tells Georgiana to bear him a son and until that time she must stay here and do as he says. 

At a grand ball thrown by the Duke, the Duchess shows up drunk. Mr. Fox dances with her.  She keeps twirling around until she crashes into a big chandelier.  Her wig catches on fire and the people start screaming.  Someone knocks her wig to the floor.  Then a servant throws red punch on the fire. 

The doctor comes to see the Duchess.  He tells the Duke that as long as the Duchess gets some rest there should be no impediment to her giving birth.  This shocks the Duke for he didn't even know she was pregnant. 

Georgiana has a boy child.  She says to the Duke:  "Success at last!" 

Charles Grey comes riding up to talk with Georgiana.  She asks him if he has been recalled from France?  Yes, for the moment, but the revolution is coming nonetheless.  She says she bore a son named Hart.  They are rather stiff, until Georgiana breaks the ice by saying:  "You have been missed. Much missed."  

At night, Bess tells Georgiana that no one must know.  Georgiana finally realizes that it was Bess who summoned Charles here. 

Later at night Georgiana goes to see Charles in his bedroom.  They kiss and have sex.  (No nudity.)

Georgiana says she is going to Bath.  Bess supports Georgiana's trip.  In Bath Georgiana and Charles briefly live together.

She is much happier in Bath, that is until her husband and mother show up there. The Duke asks her if Charles Grey is here in Bath?  There is a rumor that his is.  Georgiana says she won't give him up because everyone has a lover.  Bess is the lover of her husband.  The Duke says if Georgiana had been more discreet the situation might have been different.  Mother says that this is going too far.  It is much beneath their dignity.  Mom walks out.  The husband now lays down the law:  "If you do not give him up at once, I will see to it that every home and every checkbook in this country is closed to him.  He will be welcomed neither in the halls of government nor in its backrooms of power.  His dream of becoming prime minister and your mutual fantasy of a changed world will be dead as ash.  And you will never see your children again."  Georgiana turns around and rapidly walks out. 

Later she comes back with her mother.  She tells him to go back to London without her.  Mother looks at her daughter and then walks out. 

William left the children's letters to their mother behind.  Georgiana starts reading them.

Georgiana quickly comes home to the welcome of her four children.  William comes to see Georgiana.  Georgiana says she will be a prisoner is her own house.  

Charles Grey tries to get into the house, but the servants stop him.  Everyone can hear Charles screaming for the servants to unhand him, but it's no use.  Georgiana goes to talk to Charles.  She tells him firmly:  "I cannot abandon my children. Listen to what you are asking me to do."  She leaves. 

Now she tells William and Bess that she is carrying Charles Grey's child. 

So it is decided that Georgiana will be taken to the country and there she will give birth.  The baby will be entrusted to the care of Charles Grey's family.  Bess tells William that she will go with Georgiana to the country, if Georgiana will allow it.  And there's nothing William can do about it. 

Bess and Georgiana go to the country with some servants.  Georgiana gives birth to a female child.  But now she must give the baby up to the Grey family.  Two carriages meet out by a marsh.  Georgiana walks her baby over to the Grey family.  Charles is not there.  A woman servant takes the baby and walks away immediately.  Georgiana tells General Grey that the baby's name is Eliza. 

Bess holds Georgiana back as the other carriage leaves. 

Back home, William says he wants their lives to find a "calm normality".    They will all go to a party and show a common unity among them.  Everybody will be at the party.  Georgiana will not put up a fight about it. 

At the party, Mr. Fox and Sheridan greet Georgiana warmly and affectionately.  Charles Grey is also there.  She walks over to Charles.  They exchange pleasantries and then Charles tells her that he is to be engaged to Lady Ponsonby.  He also says that he has a niece named Eliza, "who is very much loved.".  Charles invites Georgiana to come out and meet Eliza some time, if she would like.  Georgiana says she would like that very much.  They part. 

"Georgina re-entered society and continued to be one of the most celebrated and influential women of her day.  Charles Grey became Prime Minister [1830-1834].  Georgiana, Bess and the Duke lived together until Georgiana's death.  With Georgiana's blessing, Bess went on to marry the Duke and become the next Duchess of Devonshire.  Eliza named her daughter Georgiana."


This is a sad story.  The men at that time had virtually all the power and could do pretty much what they wanted.  The wife had to put up with it.  The Duke was always having affairs and the Duchess had to ignore it.  She didn't like it, but there was nothing much she could do. Her husband could always threaten to take her children away from her.  Then the Duke takes the Duchess' best friend Bess to act as his surrogate wife.  This was a double betrayal that hurt the Duchess to the heart.  In Bess' defense, her own husband had taken her children away from her and she told the Duchess that she would do anything to get her children back.  The Duchess consolers herself with he love of Chares Grey, but the Duke puts a stop to that with the warning of taking her children from her.  Wow, what's a girl to do now?  She can only do the best with the cards that were dealt to her.  (My wife's reaction was also to emphasize the sadness of the situation for the woman.)

A costume drama with lots of great costumes and the landscapes were good too.  That Keira Knightley (as Georgiana) is some great actress.  I enjoyed her performance.  Ralph Fiennes (as The Duke) was good as usual. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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