The Duchess is a biography written in 1998 charting the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire [1757-1806], based on the book by English biographer Amanda Foreman. The Duchess Georgiana was played by Keira Knightley, with Ralph Fiennes as the Duke. Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper and Hayley Attwell also starred.

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Critical reception

The Duchess movie received largely positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes offers a score of 61% based on 163 reviews, with the general feeling that the film follows in the now-familiar footsteps of the corset-ripper, the costumes look brilliant and Keira Knightley's performance is stellar.

Marketing controversy

Studio executives wished to use digitally-altered images of Keira Knightley in advertising materials. The alterations were targeted at enlarging her breasts. Knightley complained about these alterations and they were subsequently not used. The campaign also drew criticism for its utilisation of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was an indirect descendant of Knightley’s character, Georgiana.

The advertising used taglines such as "two women related by ancestry and united by destiny" and they said, "There were three people in her marriage. This latter is an almost identical copy of a well-known quote that Diana, Princess of Wales said during her famous Panorama interview. Michael Hellicar of the Daily Mail stated that the Diana link is being so heavily, and it has to be said, so cynically and crudely promoted." Georgiana was in fact descended from much royalty.

Author’s thoughts

Amanda Foreman, who wrote Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, criticised the marketing campaign too, saying that the promoters probably thought the only way to get the young audience to see the movie was if they thought it was about Princess Diana, but it wasn't necessary and they should never have done that. And the line 'united by destiny' is wrong. I don't think Georgiana actually died in a carriage crash.

Georgiana was a cause for inspiration in political campaigning, fashion and collecting. She was an early enthusiast of mineral collecting (her collection is still at Chatsworth today). She was also a friend of Marie Antoinette (1755-93). As a result she promoted French tastes in art, dress and furniture in England. Her son William Cavendish Spencer, or 'Hart' as he was known became the 6th Duke of Devonshire, and added vastly to the collection at Chatsworth. His innovative thinking and partnership with Joseph Paxton developed many of Chatsworth's features which we still enjoy today.