The Duchess is a 2008 British drama film directed by Saul Dibb. It is based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the late 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. It starred Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and Hayley Atwell, and was released in September 2008 in the United Kingdom. The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and was nominated for Best Art Direction.
The young Georgiana is contracted in marriage to William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, with the expectation that she produces his male heir. Georgiana is quickly disillusioned by her husband, especially when Charlotte, a motherless child, comes to live with them while Georgiana is pregnant. William expects Georgiana to tolerate the child's presence, who turns out to be his own illegitimate offspring. He also suggests that she "practise mothering" on the young girl. When Georgiana gives birth to a girl, William is displeased. In his mind, he has fulfilled his obligations to her as her husband but, by failing to provide him with a legitimate male heir, she has failed in her obligations as his wife.
Georgiana socialises with the young Lady Bess Foster at Bath and kindly invites her to live with them since Bess has nowhere else to go. William has an affair with Bess, causing Georgiana to feel robbed of her only friend and betrayed by Bess. Bess explains to Georgiana that her motive is to regain her three sons (whom her husband has taken from her), so she continues to live with them.
Georgiana starts an affair with Charles Grey. William is outraged when Georgiana suggests that since he has Bess, she should be allowed Charles as a distraction. William rapes Georgiana; a male child is the product. Bess encourages the affair between Georgiana and Charles after the birth of Georgiana's son. Soon, the whole of London society comes to know of Georgiana's affair. William threatens to end Charles's political career and forbid Georgiana from seeing her children again if she does not end the relationship. After initially resisting, Georgiana ends her relationship with Grey but tells William that she is pregnant with Charles' child. She is sent to the countryside where she secretly gives birth to her daughter with Grey, Eliza Courtney, who is given to the Grey family to raise as Charles' niece.
Georgiana finds comfort in Bess's friendship during her time of giving birth to Eliza. Georgiana and William come to terms with one another and, along with Bess, continue their lives together.
The after-credits reveal Georgiana secretly visits her daughter Eliza. Eliza goes on to name her own daughter Georgiana, after her mother. Charles later becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom under William IV. Before she dies, Georgiana permits William and Bess to marry.
The Duchess was produced by British Qwerty Films and American Magnolia Mae Films, with financial support from BBC Films, French Pathé and Italian BIM Distribuzione. The film was shot at Twickenham Film Studios and on location at Chatsworth, Bath, Holkham Hall, Clandon Park, Kedleston Hall, Somerset House, King's College London and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
Studio executives wanted to use digitally altered images of Keira Knightley in promotional materials. The alterations were specifically aimed at enlarging her breasts. Knightley objected to the alterations, and they were not used. Although multiple media reports suggested that the use of parallels between the central character's life and that of Diana, Princess of Wales was being used as a marketing strategy for the project, Knightley denied any such connection.
The film had its world premiere on 3 September 2008, in Leicester Square and was released nationwide in the United Kingdom on 5 September.
as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
Ralph Fiennes as William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
Hayley Atwell as Lady Elizabeth 'Bess' Foster