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Movie Set Decor: The Duchess

September 4, 2008
The Duchess Movie

Soon The Duchess will premiere and I can’t wait to see it – especially the set since details about its location and costume has been heavily dished in the industry. With Michael Carlin as the production designer and Michael O’Connor as the costume designer, I’m sure this will be a visual movie to inspire.

Based on the incredible historical biography by Amanda Foreman, the movie is about Georgiana Spencer who, in 1774 at the age of 17, becomes Duchess of Devonshire. The set is both lavish from the fabrics to architecture with lots of information and sneak peaks on the films official web site.

For the past fifteen minutes or so I’ve been pursuing the “Discover” and “Costumes” area of the site and have developed a craving for a three foot wig ans several gowns with fabulous underpinnings. However, that all comes at a cost and Georgiana, despite having wealth, celebrity and a title, was extraordinarily in debt. The current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (who live in the home Chastworth where parts of the movie were filmed) still have many of the letters from creditors seeking to collect.

Georgiana was probably first celebrity in the way that we perceive celebrity today. When she appeared in the papers they sold out, she was followed around by cartoonists (the equivalent of the paparazzi). She was a fashion icon and she captured people’s imagination. And that took money.

Keira Knightly who plays Georgiana has said of her character’s debt, “When she died she had been terrified of disclosing to her husband the amount of she owed, because she was convinced he was going to divorce her or send her away and actually when she died he found out how much she was in debt and said is that all. There’s something incredibly sad about her, I think that she’s a victim of herself, of her own innocence. She’s a victim of people using her for their own gain, but what is rather wonderful about this story is she finds a way to live with this. She finds a way to triumph over something and to regain some power in a time when women really had very little.”

That doesn’t sound like only a 1774 problem, does it? The other way in which this movie sometimes parallels the present is the way in which Georgiana’s life resembles that of her great-great-great-great niece, Princess Diana Spencer. Both she and Georgiana were intelligent, powerful women who were almost ripped to shreds by the press and then fought to remake themselves to finally be the women they wanted to be. One of the aspects of Georgiana’s life that makes it so relevant today is that she had to live under the intense glare of public scrutiny. And although I often have a hard time with Keira Knightly, I think the scrutiny in which she’s lived under will perhaps help her with this movie, too.

What also helps the actors in this movie is that director Saul Dibb demanded that all scenes be shot on location. This lead to the incredible task of finding current places to represent real life past homes that were no longer in existence, such as the main residence of the Duke and Duchess, the Devonshire House.

For that home, rooms from Kedleston Hall, Clandon Park in Surrey and Holkham in Norfolk were combined for interiors whilst the exterior was shot at the Somerset House in London. Robert Adam designed Kedleston Hall which is one of the most intact of Adam’s houses in England. Yet there were still challenges with transforming modern updates such as switching out electrical lighting for candles and putting in massive chandeliers. Said Carlin of the task, “Here was an enormous amount of time and work spent on the structural engineering of how we could hang huge chandeliers, especially when you’re working in homes where sometimes things haven’t been moved in hundreds of years.” Kedleston was also depicted as a rented villa in Bath.

Other places used include:

And if you happen to be in Derbyshire, you can see the amazing exhibition of costumes and accessorites at the Duchess Film Exhibition at Kedleston Hall.

  • Reply
    LindaNo Gravatar
    September 4, 2008 at 12:33 PM

    I saw previews of this movie while in England a few days ago. It looks really good. Fascinating woman.

  • Reply
    robertasNo Gravatar
    September 5, 2008 at 2:33 AM

    Heavens, anytime I see Keira Knightly I have an overwhelming urge to feed her.

    The movie does look visually stunning. A friend recently went on a 3-week course (she is an Art History major) and they visited all these castles across England and saw a good number of private collections. And there I was absolutely green with envy and she was like – ts it wasnt that impressive. Honestly some people 🙂

    And speaking of Norfolk I was there earlier this year – it was one of the most relaxing, stress free holidays I had in the last 10 years. The scenery, the mixture of new and old, its breathtakingly pretty. And people are so kind.

  • Reply
    debbie baileyNo Gravatar
    September 5, 2008 at 8:06 AM

    While visiting Chatsworth last year, in their library was a paperback copy of Georgiana. One of the first things I did when I got home was order a used copy from half.com. In Chatsworth’s gift shop, I bought Counting Her Chickens by Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. She’s a fascinating woman. The Sisters is about her and her four sisters growing up and who they became; one of whom was a friend of Hitler. Very interesting reading.

    I fell in love with Chatsworth. One day during lunch, I looked closely at my plate and it had a drawing of Chatsworth in the l700’s. Funny how things are connected, isn’t it?

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