The hottie of the month for December is Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of Devonshire, the subject of Keira Knightley‘s latest film, which PJ and I saw earlier this month. Here’s the trailer:

Georgiana lived a colorful life. She married the duke just before she turned seventeen. He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the country at the time. Their marriage is probably most interesting due to the fact that Georgiana’s best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, was the duke’s mistress for some twenty years before the duchess’s death allowed them to marry. Furthermore, the basic set up of their marriage, an older man who marries a younger woman, was satirized in Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s School for Scandal. And finally, just as her husband had a mistress, Georgiana had a lover, Charles Grey, by whom she bore a daughter, Eliza Courtney.

Georgiana was also famous for her beauty, which she put to political use campaigning for the Whigs. She was regularly features in the newspapers and satirical prints of the day. In addition to her beauty and politics, she was an infamous gambler. When she died, she was deeply in debt as a result of her gambling losses.

The Duchess follows all of these events and aspects of Georgiana’s life. Ultimately, though, this movie takes an interesting life and transforms it into rather uninspired soap opera. I never felt like I was watching a real human on screen. The actors were just going through the motions rather than making a point about this woman’s life. Everything about this movie is just fine.

Knightley in particular seems out of her depths in this movie. She does everything the script asks her to do fairly well, but her performance doesn’t add up to much. Her Georgiana isn’t as likable like Elizabeth Bennet or as sensuous as Cecilia Tallis or as strong as Elizabeth Swann. She’s just beautiful and unhappy.The movie covers so many different aspects of her life that we don’t get a clear sense of any one of them. What were her true political engagements and why? Did she love her husband? Did she love his mistress and her friend, Lady Foster? Would she have married Grey if she had had the chance? I wanted more of her inner life than this film was able to give.

Dominic Cooper plays Georgiana’s lover, Grey. He is fine in his role too. He definitely looks good in eighteenth-century garb. Maybe he should play Rochester sometime.

Ralph Fiennes plays the duke. He’s got the meatiest role in the movie. In this incarnation, Cavendish is autocratic, violent, and stupid. In other words, he’s the villain of the film. Fiennes plays this part well. Hayley Atwell is also good as Lady Foster.

Ultimately, this movie is rather cynical about eighteenth-century society, love, and this marriage, which is probably the right attitude to take. But it left out important details — like the fact that Georgiana and Lady Foster were both having children by Cavendish at the same time. I couldn’t help but think that there’s a more interesting, perhaps even more cynical, story here waiting to be told. For that reason, Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of Devonshire is this month’s hottie.

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