The Duchess (2008) Film Review, The Complexity of an Aristocratic Woman's Life Under Gender & Class Oppression


 Control over sexual and reproductive functions is the oldest form of oppression against women. Women are considered second class and 'must be subservient' to men, no matter whether she is a woman from the commoners or she is a woman from the aristocratic class. Including Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806), or who is often called G. Georgiana (G) is a woman who is influential in politics, a fashion icon, high social status and wealthy. Even so, he did not escape the gender oppression experienced by women from all classes, which also occurred in husband-wife relationships in households that were subject to patriarchal culture – England in the renaissance, in the 1700s. The Duchess Film Movie(2008) became a biographical summary of the life of G or Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire . A summary of the complexities of G's life, under gender oppression as an aristocratic woman.

The Duchess (2008) Movie Review

The film The Duchess (2008) opens with a scene set in 1774, where G is proposed by William Cavendish, 5 th Duke of Devonshire—as the beginning of his marriage journey. At that time, G was only 17 years old and William was 9 years his senior. From this prologue scene, which opens the beginning of G's marriage journey, the topic of 'the ability to give birth to a son' is emphasized. The audience is brought into a room where only G's mother, William and William's assistant, talk about a marriage that seems to be more of a profit-and-loss calculation (taking into account the advantages of G as a future wife of the nobleman), rather than 'out of love' ( as G thought and hoped). So, the film's plot continues towards the later scenes in the wedding, which are getting more intense and lead to conflicts one by one.

The conflict started when G turned out to give birth to a girl, not a boy. William was not happy, even though the baby girl was the first baby G was born to him. In the patriarchal culture of the aristocratic class at the time, only a baby boy who could carry on the family's aristocratic lineage-as 6 th Duke of Devonshire.Just before that, while heavily pregnant, G was surprised by the arrival of a girl in their majestic castle. Her name is Charlotte, and she is the child of William's affair with a servant. William 'gives orders' in a unilateral decision that Charlotte will stay with them from that day on, G will take care of it. When G raised his objection, William said simply, G could assume this would 'exercise her motherly nature.' The storyline of this film is neat, with successive scenes that manage to bring the audience to understand the oppression experienced by G.

Even so, G is described as being proud. Without having to exercise her maternal nature like William's 'command', G is a good mother to her children. After giving birth to her first baby girl, G gave birth to a second baby girl. Now, he has three daughters, whom he loves unconditionally. However, William was of course disappointed. She feels that G 'has not fulfilled his duty as a wife' because he has not given birth to a son who can be his successor and heir. G even had to regularly drink a sulfur potion which was believed to help her give birth to a boy. It is strange that men in those days blamed women for the sex of the babies they were born with, simply because of the reproductive burden that women's wombs carried. It is sad that it turns out,

In fact, William had cheated on him many times. G doesn't think much of it, until William sleeps with his best friend, Bess Foster (Lady Elisabeth Foster). G is too broken, too angry. He 'reply' William's affair with an affair as well. She began to venture into a romantic relationship again with Charles Grey, who is said to have known her since before marriage. Hoping to get equal and fair treatment, G tries to negotiate with her husband: she will approve of her husband's relationship with Bess, if he lets her have a romantic relationship with Charles Grey. Tragically, the negotiations were flatly rejected and ended with William's cruel oppression and marital rape(marriage rape) William to G, who is getting more and more heartbroken.

Living in a marriage with William Cavendish made G feel like he was imprisoned in his own home. Perhaps the parable is also appropriate to describe how tormented he was by the oppression that oppressed him in that marriage. Despite having great privileges as an aristocratic woman, in fact G cannot be separated from gender and class oppression, because of the patriarchal culture that was still inherent in European society at that time. As an aristocratic woman, in order to maintain her family's social status, she was required to marry an aristocratic man too—even though that marriage, like her marriage to William Cavendish, was disorganized and unhappy. It's also difficult to question or fight against her husband's treatment, even though G doesn't feel well and has told his mother since the beginning of the marriage. Her mother, described as a patriarchal and conventional aristocratic woman, only emphasizing the issue of 'submission and obedience' to her husband, and the 'obligation to give a son' who will melt her husband's heart. Throughout the storyline, it is said that G's life is a mixture of 'orders' from his mother and husband, who do not give him the freedom to choose and even have an opinion—both of which seem to be symbols of gender and class oppression for G.

The film The Duchess (2008) was inspired by the biographical book “Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire” written by a female writer named Amanda Foreman, which summarizes the biography of Georgiana Cavendish, The Duchess of Devonshire . Even so, this film does not describe all the realities of G's life in detail—and chooses to focus only on the complexities of domestic life under gender oppression in G's disharmony relationship with her husband. Still, The Duchess (2008) is a clever biographical compendium to illustrate that complexity.

It should not be forgotten that G was known in history as an aristocratic woman who was active in politics (even though women did not yet have the right to vote at that time) and a fashion icon for the women of her time. It's possible, G 'escaped' into the world of politics and fashion design(as well as gambling and infidelity) because of the gender and class oppression he experiences in his household—but this can also be seen as G's way of 'fighting' oppression at home with his self-expression in the public sphere. G often designs her own clothes, dresses and hats which other women have followed after that. G is an influential and famous figure, rarely escapes the attention of newspaper caricatures who are busy drawing him at royal events. Keira Knightley's acting as G is stunning, helping strengthen the characterization of G in this film.

Get Closer to the Figure of Georgiana Cavendish

—Georgiana Cavendish, in The Duchess (2008)

Georgiana Cavendish, The Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) was an aristocratic woman who was so famous in her day that it goes down well in history. In the film The Duchess (2008), she is portrayed not only as the wife of William Cavendish ( The Duchess of Devonshire ), but also as an English socialite, fashion icon,and political activists. G is an aristocratic woman who is influential in the association of nobles, charismatic, intelligent, beautiful, and has the capability to lead. In the eyes of the public, she attracted more attention than her husband who actually also had enormous power and influence in England at that time. This can be seen well in the scene which tells about the visit of G and William to the City of Bath.

Although initially 'as if' presented as a young woman who is naive, slowly according to the plot, G began to be shown as a woman who thinks intelligently and critically. For the first time, this is neatly narrated through his first night scene with William. William complains about why women's clothes are too complicated, but G responds with his witty opinion which he conveys still very carefully to a husband he doesn't know, “ It's our way of expressing ourselves, I supposed. You have so many ways of expressing yourself, we must make do with our hats and our dresses." G's criticality is also depicted when he questions his mother about William, who rarely communicates with him and only cares about his dogs. Then, how did G start to take part and participate in discussions at banquets with her husband's guests from political parties ( Whigs ).

Despite suffering under the oppression of her husband and a disorganized household, G is not told to be a passive figure. On the other hand, he is described as an active figure against oppression. As G's form of 'resistance' against her husband's oppression, she truly expresses herself in the public sphere—through politics, fashion, gambling and finally infidelity. Although very 'unusual', G chose that path.

One of the interesting scenes when G 'conspired' with Mr. Sheridan, the playwright and designer, to 'quirk' her husband through the play. Even before the play, for all the scandals that occurred in their household, William Cavendish was known as the only man in England who did not love his wife. Unfortunately, the oppression was not easy to beat by G until the end of The Duchess (2008). There is one scene that becomes a tragic symbol of the oppression: the scene where G gets drunk at a noble party after feeling helpless against his husband's oppression and accidentally crashes the table so that his wig burns. The scene concludes with her husband's order to the party maid to water the wig) his wife with wine, as an implicit symbol of social status as well as G's self-expression which was turned off and belittled by her husband—considering that wigs were one of the symbols of aristocratic social status at that time, with a deeper meaning for G.

Despite her unhappy marriage to her husband, G is a mother who loves her children very much. After repeated miscarriages and gave birth to two daughters to William G finally gave birth to a boy who becomes the heir and successor to his father's lineage as the 6 th Duke of Devonshire. G is also told to breastfeed his own baby, without a wet nurse (a servant who helps breastfeed babies, especially for nobles). When she was forced to end her romantic relationship with Charles Grey, she said, “ I cannot abandon my children(because William threatened to separate G from his children, never to see them again). The mother's love in G is also clearly depicted in the painful scene when she has to give her baby (Eliza), who was born from an affair with Charles Grey, to the Gray family to take care of—William who 'ordered' it, did not allow G to raise the child (how tragic , considering that G himself had raised the child of William's previous affair—whom G loved like his own).

The figure of G (Georgiana) in the film The Duchess (2008) represents aristocratic and upper-privileged women who apparently do not escape gender oppression even in their own households, women who experience sad and painful oppression from their own husbands. Without having to argue about the morality aspect of the chosen resistance path, the figure G represents women who are active against oppression, even though the oppression is very oppressive. The figure G also represents women who are fighting for a place in the public sphere, especially in the realm of activism and politics—to fight for better conditions for all. Representing women, who do not give up their voice, even though patriarchal culture is always considered second class.

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