September 26, 2008

Defending The Duchess

So, The Duchess hasn't been getting great reviews, which pisses me off. The Globe and Mail basically accused it of being too small of a story to make an interesting film. I'd love to tag the article, but you have to pay to see it because it's now a week old.
All I have to say is Rich Groen, the author of the Globe review, doesn't seem to like women's history. This is a biopic about a great female historical character. I'm sorry if the Duchess of Devonshire's life wasn't sexy enough or "dangerous" enough, as you put it, but she lived within the constraints of a society where she couldn't vote, couldn't really own property and couldn't leave her husband, because if she did, he could withold her children from her for the rest of her life. What is so inspirational about Georgianna Spencer's life, however, is that, despite all these constraints,despite the spousal rape and her husband being so disrespectful to her that he made her best friend his mistress, she managed to carve out a small space for personal rebellion. She had an affair with the handsome Charles Gray, and even bore his child. She became very involved in Whig politics, thus fighting to make British men freer, to abolish slavery and to extend the vote to more people. She also wore a lot of great clothes. All in all, this Duchess had a pretty interesting life. I dug the film, and I totally dug her.
So, what exactly were The Duchess' writer and director to do to make this bio-pic sexy enough for ADD film reviewers who aren't satisfied by a good historical story well-told? Should they have bastardized it by adding one or two more lovers and a few more illegitimate kids? All people like Mr. Groen do when they give The Duchess mediocre reviews(a film he admits is well-acted and anyone can see is beautifully shot)is to imply that women's stories just aren't good enough. Not only do female actors hardly ever get cast in meaningful roles as they age, and not only has there never been a single woman director to win the Best Director Oscar, but our stories aren't good enough for period dramas, either. Who would want to watch women live like women did back in the day? Who would want to watch the true story of an actual woman who did so much to change the world? The implication is that no one would, or perhaps, that no one SHOULD.
If the film had made Georgianna Spencer sexier and sluttier, it might have been hotter, but the point would have been gone. The point of this film, that 18th century patriarchy wasted so much female talent and imprisoned women (even upper class women) as their husbands' virtual slaves, would have been obscured if The Duchess had not been portrayed as a woman of her time, but the kind of overtly sexy rebel British society (and British law) simply wouldn't permit at this time. At the end of the day, this was a bio pic, so inventing an entirely new biography for the Duchess of Devonshire just wouldn't have been appropriate...

Defending The Duchess

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