Film will recount tragic life of the 18th century Diana

BOTH women died young, were aristocratic icons of an adoring British public and had everything except love. They were also leaders of fashion, had an innate empathy with the poor and were beautiful but plagued by bulimia.

The extraordinary parallels between the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, her 18th-century ancestor, are to be reflected in an ambitious new feature film. Georgiana was a Spencer, born in 1757 at Althorp, the ancestral home of Diana in Northampton, where it is hoped that part of the film will be shot.

The film, inspired by the Whitbread award-winning 1998 biography by Amanda Foreman, is being made by a British team led by Michael Kuhn, former British president of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, which garnered ten Oscars in the 1990s with films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.

A controversial feature about Diana — Stephen Frears’s The Queen, about the impact of the Princess’s death on the Royal family — has its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday. Helen Mirren’s performance as the Queen is already being tipped for an Oscar.

Yesterday, nine years after Diana’s death in Paris, the German filmmaker Christoph Schlingensiefalso revealed that he was planning a film about her final hour.

Georgiana’s story will be told by Susanne Bier, a Danish director expected to achieve Hollywood success. Having directed The One and Only, one of the most popular Danish feature films, she is now working with the Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry on Things We Lost in the Fire, a story about a grief-striken family, for DreamWorks.

As soon as Bier finishes filming it, she will begin casting for Georgiana. She will be looking for an A-list star who can portray a woman who, at the age of 15, was picked as a “suitable” wife by the distant and reserved Duke of Devonshire, ten years her senior.

Georgiana’s purpose was to produce male heirs and host social functions. She soon discovered that she was in a loveless marriage with a man with whom she had nothing in common. The film will reflect how Georgiana — alone and starved of affection — suffered an inner turmoil that was later to induce eating disorders.

Just as the late Princess found that there were three people in her marriage and found solace in the arms of other men, the relationship of the Devonshires was just as “crowded”.

Georgiana faced competition from Lady Elizabeth Foster, also married and a mother, who offered comfort and her bed to the Duke. When the Duchess died at the age of 48 in 1806, she got him to herself.

The Duchess in turn was linked with the Prince of Wales, as well as numerous lovers including, it is thought, the alluring Whig parliamentarian Charles James Fox.

Like Diana, Georgiana transformed herself from a gauche girl, throwing herself into London life, shining as a socialite and as an arbiter of fashion.

She possessed a unique magnetism that lit up a room when she entered. The actor David Garrick once described her as an “exquisite, beautiful Young Creature” while the writer Fanny Burney said that it was “impossible to view … this celebrated woman without feeling the strongest disposition to like and admire her”.

Newspapers raved, reporting soaring sales whenever they carried a story about her. Her disarming directness won hearts everywhere andTown and Country Magazine wrote of “the greatest paradox” that the Duke was the only man in England not in love with her.

Mr Kuhn, the founder of Qwerty Films whose recent films include Stage Beauty and Kinsey, said: “Georgiana was very similar to Lady Di. There are amazing, scary parallels.”

After her death in 1806 the Prince of Wales declared: “The best natured and best bred woman in England is gone”

Copyright© 2006 The Times