As a tale of mature self-sacrifice, the movie would be almost unbearably moving were it not for Knightley's insubstantial performance, which allows her to be fatally upstaged by Ralph Fiennes.
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Director Saul Dibb, presumably knowing that this is pretty standard stuff for a costume epic, occupies us not just with the usual visuals -- of his star drifting through exquisitely furnished estates, draped in rich silks and brocades -- but also with some intriguingly offbeat sights.
It has impeccable production values but feels like a "Masterpiece Theater" production of a Harlequin romance novel.
Instead of scintillation, the movie gives us a succession of discrete set pieces, as if the action takes place in rooms but not in the halls connecting them.
A serviceable picture that offers all the sumptuous visual pleasures of a historical costume drama, yet little in the way of actual history.
Keira Knightley is a terrific choice to play the 18th century socialite.
Fiennes speaks with his body what the script cannot formulate about what it's like to be a man apart. The actor creates particulars of time, space, class, and personality with one crook of a finger, one twist of a wrist. I call that nobility of craft; he's the actors' prince.
An overstuffed, intellectually underbaked portrait of a poor little rich girl.
Thoroughly populist and middlebrow, full of all the high wigs, thick powder, perfect diction, and straightforward dialogue that define bodice-ripping prestige pictures about silently suffering souls.
It's Knightley who makes The Duchess a royal treat.