What I normally would be typing into this space would be my overview of The
Duchess. That, however, is a much lower priority than informing you about what
has been done with the Region 2 DVD for this film
Bottom line: don't get it.
Oh, I know you probably weren't planning to, since the film itself is
vaginocentric, but Keira is beautiful and some of you may have been planning to
acquire it for her nude scene. If you do, you'll be in for a surprise. It ain't
You may have read yesterday or today about the campaign being waged by
Simon Pegg and his director to get people NOT to buy the North American DVD of How to Lose
Friends and Alienate People. I agree with their points wholeheartedly and, in
fact, I made the exact same case when I advised people NOT to buy the DVD of
Basic Instinct 2. The essence of the argument in each case is that there are
various deleted scenes that should have been included in the DVD extras, but
were not. The omissions were particularly egregious in both cases:
1. In Basic Instinct 2, there were some really hot deleted scenes circulated on
the internet. The DVD advertised deleted scenes. I bought it. It did include about a dozen, but not the ones we
all knew about, and none with any significant erotica.
2. In Lose Friends, the
director and star had agreed to allow some cuts to the theatrical version to
please their investors, on the condition that the deletions would be restored
on the DVD, either in a director's cut or as deleted scenes. The conditions
were not met on the region one release, despite the fact that the region two
disk was fully loaded with all the scenes and more.
Those were obviously not good situations but you can kind of forgive the DVD
producers because the errors are errors of omission in both cases. Human beings
being the lazy fuck-ups that we are, we sometimes mess up and don't do things we
are supposed to do because we get drunk, or leave early to take our kids to the
zoo, or forget, or use the money to take our sexy secretaries to St. Kitts, or
The problem with The Duchess is much more grievous than an error of
omission because it was not just created by laziness or stupidity. The guys who
produced the DVD had to make an extra effort and spend extra money to fuck it
Here's Keira's nude
scene, as we saw in a bootleg Asian knock-off of the DVD screener.
Now here's the same scene on the
DVD. See the problem? There are no more Keira breasts, and it took a real
effort to get rid of them. In the first camera set-up, the editor had to snip a
couple of seconds of footage when Keira's hands failed to cover her breasts.
Then, when Keira was on her back, the editor did not remove any frames, but he
had to crop the scene so that KK's breasts were just out of sight, below the
bottom of the screen.
What makes this even more difficult to understand is
that the other nude scene, which was performed
by an unknown, was left intact. If the Knightley cuts were made in the interest of
making the film family-friendly, the other scene would not still be there, so
censorship was not the apparent motivation. Moreover, the motivation does not
appear to be greed either. That other nude scene is not likely to sell some
legal DVDs, but Keira Knightley's scene just might! Let's face it, if your wife
wants to pick this up, you're much more likely to say "sure, why not?" if you
know it has a topless scene from one of the world's most beautiful women. So the
DVD producers actually paid an editor to spend time creating a new version of
that scene which is less marketable than the one they started with, thus
increasing costs while lowering revenues. Now that's good business!
problem runs much deeper than merely the loss of short-term revenues. If the
movie industry wants to combat piracy, it cannot do so by making a legal DVD a
less desirable product than the pirated equivalent. It is obvious (to everyone
but them) that this sort of thing will have the opposite effect, making pirates
of people who had been perfectly willing to pay for a legal DVD!
By the way,
the Region 1 DVD has not yet been issued (it comes out Tuesday), so I don't know
whether to recommend it or not, and I don't know whether the comments above are
applicable to North America.
On to the movie:
Making historical dramas and biopics is a process that comes with three major
(1) If the person being portrayed was truly interesting and important, there
was probably too much happening in their lives to fit into a single movie, so the
author must eschew his natural desire to make the script merely a litany of
accomplishments. This requires a good and disciplined screenwriter who can toss
out some great stuff that he would love to keep. Only so much can fit into 100
(2) If the author loves or admires the subject, he must not allow that to
interfere with creating a three-dimensional character. Leave hagiography to the
(3) The fact that the film is historically accurate does not liberate
the filmmakers from their obligation to create an interesting and cinematic
experience. If I wanted to learn about history, I would be reading a detailed
and nuanced account of it rather than watching a superficial 100-minute
treatment of a person's life.
I'll take this third point a step further. I don't especially care about
historical accuracy when I watch a movie. What I want to watch is a moving
and/or entertaining story. I think we all know that the basic story behind
Amadeus is total bullshit, but the film is funny, insightful, poignant, and has
a lot to say about the nature of genius. It is thus rated among the greatest
films ever made, and nobody really cares that it is bullshit.
In terms of The Duchess, I'd assign the following grades in each area listed
Area 1: condensation.
B+. Not bad.
Although the film covers a long period of time, it is focused tightly enough
on the central story of her unusual marriage.
Area 2: honesty.
This film reminds me of those adoring biographies of Princess Di which are so
intent on beatifying her that they overlook some rather major flaws in her
personality. For example, she was as dumb as a box of rocks, and this is
important to know in order to understand her relationship with Charles. Imagine
you're a reasonably intelligent person with far-reaching interests, and are
married to the most beautiful and elegant and compassionate woman in the world,
but she is simply incapable of making conversation on any subject that interests
you. Would it be long before you were seeking other companionship?
This film basically performs a sanctification rite with
Georgina Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. It makes her seem to be a beloved
public figure and a farsighted and prescient political manipulator who had a
profound influence on the voices of freedom that inspired English reform as well
as the French and American revolutions. She comes off as a combination of St.
Francis of Assisi and Voltaire, with the looks of Keira Knightley.
Oh, get off
it. In real life, "Gi" was an interesting woman who seemed to be on the right
side of most causes, and she had a truly intriguing marriage in which her
powerful husband blatantly brought another lover into his bed, and then to
their dinner table. In fact, the Duke finally just lived publicly with both
"wives" and merged all of their various children into one family, while the
Duchess somehow managed to endure the public humiliation. She definitely had a
life which provided a good enough story for a film.
But a saint and an intellectual she was not. Her entire life revolved around
gambling and pretty clothes, and one of her best friends was the equally naive
and superficial Marie Antoinette, the queen of France who was beheaded by the
freedom-loving activists Georgina seems to support in this film. The real
duchess died with mammoth gambling debts, and fought lifelong battles with
gambling, eating disorders, drug addiction, and excessive alcohol consumption.
By the way, the duchess did have a lot in common with Di, who is a direct
descendant of Georgina's brother. Both Di and Georgina were born with the
surname Spencer at the family home in Althorp, some two centuries apart. Both
were engaged while still teenage virgins, and in both cases to the second-most
powerful person in England. Neither marriage was happy, and both women were
subjected to the public humiliation of having "three of us in the marriage."
In both cases, the husband outlived them, and eventually ended up legally
married to that third person. Both Gi and Di were extremely popular public
figures who attracted curious crowds wherever they went. Both were considered
beautiful and impeccably fashionable, and were portrayed by the great artists of their
Georgina bore, by the way, a child by Earl Grey (yup, the tea guy), who
became prime minister many years after their affair, a quarter of a century
after Georgina had shuffled off this mortal coil.
Area 3: cinematic appeal, as opposed to historical appeal.
C+. Some appeal,
but only to a targeted audience.
The film has some very strong aspects: the acting is outstanding; the
costumes and hairstyles are luscious; the sets and cinematography are gorgeous.
Unfortunately for me, those are minor elements in my overall enjoyment of a
historical film, possibly as a result of a fairly common biological malady which
has left me bereft of vaginas. I would rather hear brilliant badinage between
great wits, encounter the thoughts of great thinkers, hear great period music,
and see a plot with an engaging hook.
Pretty costumes? Meh.
In short, this film is competently presented, but is a
hagiographical whitewash and fundamentally a chick-flick. I shan't give it a
thumb down because it held my attention throughout its running time, but it
never really engaged me, so my thumb remains parallel to the ground.