the duchess

duchessxMy eyes are puffy this morning because I cried so hard and so long while watching The Duchess at the movies last night.  I mean, I cried and cried.  

But good crying. Cathartic crying.  The kind that comes from experiencing something real.

I want to feel something when I see a movie or read a book–or hear a story of any kind.  I want to be stirred up and provoked and moved.  I want to see things a little differently after it’s over.

Here’s a movie that does that.  A good one.  The world it creates feels so convincing and so real I was completely drawn in.  I love BBC costume dramas, anyway.  But a lot of the time, for whatever reason, they feel like costume dramas.

But The Duchess, from the opening shot–a closeup of the silk hem of Georgiana’s gown skimming the grass as she walks across a yard–is different.  It brings you right up close to her.  It brings you inside.  

The opening scene shows Kiera Knightley’s teenage character, Georgiana, playing and flirting out on the lawn while her parents, inside, arrange her marriage.  Soon she is married off to a duke and ready to make a go of it.  But he doesn’t talk to her. He has no interest in her at all, other than as a vessel to produce a male heir.

Georgiana, meanwhile, wants what we all want: companionship, conversation, friendship, love, tenderness, touch.  Essential components of human life.  

The Duke is–um, how to say it–a total horn dog.  He’s messing around with anyone he chooses, even keeping a longtime mistress in the house who comes to dine with him and Georgiana at every meal.  But Georgiana is not allowed to have anyone.  She lives in pure isolation.  

And that’s what got me.  How badly she wants human connection in her life and how the rules of society (and that mean duke) pulverize her every attempt to get it.

But the movie doesn’t feel like a polemic. It’s not done in an obvious or clumsy way.  Every tension in the story rises from the characters, and the well-defined social strictures around them.  You believe in Georgiana and you root for her.  You see why she acts the way she does.  And you understand the pressures on the Duke, as well, and his mistress.  It’s clear how trapped they all are, only able to play the cards they have.

And somewhere in the empathy you feel for the characters, there’s some kind of recognition of something about your own life.  Even though your own life, truly, couldn’t be farther from that of the duchess.  There’s just a feeling there.  How we’re all just playing our cards.  How none of us gets to choose our circumstances.  How, even still, even today, as different as things are (and thank goodness), it’s still hard being a girl.

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Filed under for writers, screenplays

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