(out of 5)
An 18th century daughter of aristocracy (Keira Knightley) knows that the opportunity of a lifetime has fallen into her lap when the Baron Of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) expresses an interest in her as a wife. Assured that she is everything a woman of her class should be and more, he takes her to bride and bed, expecting her to fulfill her duty and provide him with a male heir tout de suite. Unfortunately that project is long in the accomplishment, complicated by his taking her best friend (Hayley Atwell) as mistress and her acknowledging the burning passion she has for political hopeful Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Basically a period soap opera, the film’s plot vacillates back and forth between Knightley’s happy and bad times, but it isn’t as maudlin as it sounds. Director Saul Dibb gives the proceedings a lot of energy, keeping the pace up throughout and eliciting fine, complex performances from his cast: Knightley is elegant and commanding, Fiennes is appropriately dour as the brutish husband for whom duty matters more than desire, and Charlotte Rampling is brilliantly cold as Knightley’s ambitious mother. Considering the tragic circumstances it depicts, it’s a shame that the film never strikes any emotional chords, which may be partly Knightley’s fault, since as skilled and poised as she is, she doesn’t necessarily resonate any deep humanity. Still, despite being coldly unaffecting, the film is lavish and thoroughly enjoyable, plus it does a terrific job in its charting of the disintegration of a relationship that was doomed from the start.
Directed by Saul Dibb
Cinematography by Gyula Pados
Music by Rachel Portman
Production Design by Michael Carlin
Costume Design by Michael O’Connor
Film Editing by Masahiro Hirakubo