On-set report: The Duchess Telegraph article on the filming of The Duchess

On-set report: The Duchess

Amanda Foreman’s bestselling account of the colourful life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, is coming to cinema screens, with Keira Knightley as the tormented celebrity aristocrat trapped in a loveless marriage. David Gritten talks to cast and crew about the film’s key moments

It was one of the most compelling historical biographies of recent years, and a film adaptation has always seemed inevitable: Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire related the story of a tragic heroine apparently custom-built for the big screen. Georgiana Spencer became Duchess of Devonshire in 1774, aged 17 (her husband was 26).

She was expected to produce a son and heir for the duke, but instead she bore two daughters. The marriage deteriorated after the duke seduced Georgiana’s friend Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster, and they lived in a ménage à trois for a decade. But by then the intensely sociable Georgiana had established herself as a taste-maker in society, and a political mover and shaker for the Whig Party. She bore a child by the future prime minister, Charles Grey, and ran up huge gambling debts.

(Georgiana did, in 1790, give birth to a son, though this is not covered in the film. Bess also bore the duke a son and a daughter and married him after Georgiana died. He then found himself a new mistress.) In her time Georgiana became a genuine celebrity whom the common folk seemed to love. She was, if you will, the people’s duchess.

Keira Knightley plays this 18th-century It girlThe film’s producer, Gabrielle Tana, who bought the rights to Foreman’s book 10 years ago, said, ‘I never thought the film wouldn’t happen. But it’s been a long journey.’ Keira Knightley plays this 18th-century It girl (Tana and Foreman, who are friends, were adamant that a British actress had to play Georgiana). Ralph Fiennes is the distant duke. In the same spirit, the film’s size­able budget (£13.5 million) came only from Europe: Pathé Films and BBC Films bankrolled the picture between them.

It was shot last summer on a nine-week whistle-stop tour of some of Britain’s most impressive stately homes – including Chatsworth, the Devonshire family’s ancestral seat. ‘When you are offered a role like this,’ Knightley said, ‘you don’t turn it down.’

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