Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Duchess in an Open Adoption

Okay, I'm a sucker for period dramas with amazing costumes and plucky women though I had heard the reviews for The Duchess were less than laudatory, this was a movie I was not going to miss on the big screen. I didn't know much about the story other than the women in question, Georgiana Spencer (Kiera Knightly), was married off to the fabulously wealthy Duke of Devonshire, was involved in the politics of the time even though she couldn't vote, wore fashions that everybody followed, and loved to gamble and drink champagne. Spirited she was: Think Princess Di (Georgiana is a distant aunt) meets Hillary Clinton (with a gambling habit). Okay, maybe I knew a bit about her. The book, Georgiana by Amanda Foreman, was a big seller a couple of years ago.

But what I didn't know is what brings me here today. The Duke (Rafe Fiennes) has been and continues to be a busy philanderer, for one hardly said no to one of the most powerful men in England, Incidentally, he has extra children, including one Georgiana raises after the girl's mother dies. She bears the Duke's two girls (girls! who wants girls?) and, at last, a boy who will be the titled heir. That was the whole purpose of the marriage.

When a friend of Georgiana's moves in with them (there's plenty of space) the randy Duke takes her as a lover too, but it's presented not so much as a betrayal of Georgiana's friendship, but as the only way for the woman, who had been cast off as a wife, to get her children back. In merry ole' England, when there was a separation, or god forbid a divorce, the man of property always got the children...because they were his property. But the Duke is powerful enough to have the children returned to her.

The Duke is a such an all-purpose shit that by this time you really want Georgiana to have a little love in her life. She finds it with gusto with a rising politician. In time, she becomes pregnant with his child. Now remember, she is raising one of the Duke's kids by a peasant. Why not just add to the mix?

Because the Duke will not have it. Georgiana must choose: the children or her lover. Georgiana chooses the children; the child she is carrying will be given to the father's family. Yes...an adoption plan. An open adoption in the works.

The scene where she surrenders the child is brilliant. Ms. Knightly packs into the goodbye all the harrowing emotions that we know, and as she is being pulled away, she turns to the group standing in the road and cries: Her name is Eliza. The whole scene is over in less a minute, but it doesn't pull any punches about what it is like to relinquish a child. I can't think of another movie in which the feelings of a mother for a child she is losing are expressed so raw, so poignantly, so real.

As for the girl's father, Charles Grey: he went on to become prime minister and he is remembered everywhere...as Earl Grey. Yes, that afternoon brew with a hint of bergamot. I'll never drink it again without thinking of that scene from The Duchess.

1 comment :

  1. Four stars! Like, Lorraine, I love period piece films; I didn't know anything about Georgiana Spencer except that she was Princess Di's ancestor. Throughout the movie I was thinking I would probably have been a social outcast because I'm a free spirit like Georgiana; I was making mental notes about the misogyny and how unusual she was in an era when it was unfashhionable for women to have minds of their own, let alone property.

    I was fine, absolutely fine, throughout the whole movie, and then came the scene where she hands her daughter over to her lover's father,the infant's grandfather. That scene was only about a minute long, but the tears were streaming down my face, and I was thinking, well, it's not exactly adoption, but it was. The good news was that she was able to visit her daughter in secret over the years, and Georgiana's granddaughter was named after her. While it may not have been much consolation, it was a sort of a happy ending, at least perhaps happier than it might have been. I was interested enough to learn more that I purchased a copy of the book for fireside reading this winter.

    Now if we could all happy endings of our own...

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