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April 06, 2009

The Duchess – sacrificed on the altar of political correctness

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

I am very fond of the Regency period and looked forward to watching this film. I was aware of the deliberate link to the Diana back story – the tag line ‘there were three people in her marriage’ kind of gave that one away – which I assumed would be some sort of hook to the Diana-philes seeking confirmation of the injustice their Princess experienced. So I settled down to enjoy a bit of a period romp.

What I didn’t expect was for the story to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. There is a very interesting story to be told about a woman enjoying Regency life here – especially as women enjoyed substantially greater freedoms in this period than they were to through the Victorian era – but, instead, the story chosen was one of male brutality and sexual repression, which is certainly not my understanding of the Duchess’s life.

She was certainly not the ingenue as portrayed by Keira Knightley. She was one of the most famous – if not the most famous – hostesses of the era as well as being a regular participant in society. She had two, not one, children out of wedlock with Earl Grey which makes a mockery of the denouement of the film and most likely also had an affair with the Prince Regent, amongst other eminent men. She also ran up enormous gambling debts (in today’s money of around £5 million) regularly which her husband happily paid off over and over again.

She was most certainly not the angel that the film made her out to be. As with most upper class women of the age, she provided the heir to the Duke of Devonshire and then proceeded to enjoy herself. In today’s terms, she would have been something of an It girl, though expected not to bare quite so much to the newspapers.

We often view the Regency era in modern terms instead of considering it in its own context. But to butcher it in order to make it conform to modern politically correct sensibilities is, in my view, a heinous crime.


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