Keira Knightley puts a corset on her passion in The Duchess.
THE DUCHESS (Saul Dibb). 109 minutes. Opens Friday (September 19). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Apart from her occasional wit and towering wigs, The Duchess fails to demonstrate why legions adored Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley), the Duchess of Devonshire and ancestor of Princess Di.
Georgiana's activities in politics and at social shindigs are underwhelming inserts in Saul Dibb's period piece about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Instead of a dynamic and influential luminary, Knightley (typically good in yet another period role) offers a pouty-lipped, clench-jawed damsel in distress who always looks like a deer caught in the headlights of the Duke (Ralph Fiennes), her sleazy and promiscuous Voldemort of a husband.
The script is less interested in Georgiana's political life than it is in her gossip-ready domestic troubles and her affair with soon-to-be prime minister Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).
The elaborate sets and costumes are gorgeous. However, the expansive dresses set a perimeter that impedes close contact between the romantic leads. In fact, the film's strict adherence to 18th-century social strictures is a burden altogether. Verbal love-making sounds like Elizabethan prose rather than anything carnal, and Dibb can't make discreet gestures burn with lust. He even avoids private bedroom scenes (likely at Knightley's request), where propriety could have been tossed out with the corset.
Robbed of all passion, The Duchess makes treachery seem polite and forbidden love as sensual as my big toe.