Who doesn’t love Keira Knightley?
I sure do, my darling Jan does.
Last night Jan and I watched some BBC dreck, The Duchess: loved her, loved a couple of other aspects of it too, Charlotte Rampling not least among them.
How can I kick this off? when I want to play in a dozen different directions?
First I’ll repeat, I’ll vary, a pk saw about genetics and entertainment. Theory has it, good theory, right theory, the truth, that what we’re responding to when we “like” Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts is their quintessential humanness. Make a mathematical map of the human face, the human body, etc, map a photo of Brad Pitt onto the male graph, map Natalie Portman onto the female graph, and you get near perfect matches. When we love Jane Fonda, we’re loving ourselves, we’re loving Eve.
I love Toshiro Mifune, Toshiro Mifune is [was] Japanese, but: make that map, map Mifune, dig it, he’s human, not just Japanese: he looks super-handsome, super-human, because he’s transcendently average. He obliterates nationality.
So: Keira. Is she average? Yes, actually; and, simultaneously: No! Absolutely not. She’s weird, she departs from the average, she’s unique, uniquely weird.
What a skull! What hips! What lips!
Hips as wide as a river, no boobs, what do we make of her? We don’t, we just drip semen and go Goo, Goo, Goo.
OK. Now, a parallel track for the movie:
I call The Duchess dreck. I mean it. Got made-for-BBC written all over it. The settings are gorgeous: offensively so. Ditto the costumes, the wigs … It’s the reverse of Shakespeare at his most pedestrian: where the male hero has some individuality, some human spark; the rest of everything and everybody is predictable, average, robotic. (And it that’s true of Shakespeare, how much more infinitely true is it of nearly everything else?)
Keira’s duchess becomes a duchess by marrying the Duke of Devonshire, as arranged by her mother. It’s a business deal: the duke needs a male heir, Charlotte Rampling assures His Grace that her family has never been found wanting in that department.
Pause. Understand what we’re dealing with here. This is England. This is Great Brittain. This is a fucking duke! This is the Eighteenth Century! The English cover the glove, the English are expanding. What, for Cockney Tom? For Gutter Liz? No, for the prince! for the archbishop! For the happy privileged hell-bound few.
The movie establishes the French Revolution is imminent. But the movie’s aristos never question their own privileges, believing them God-given, and permanent. That’s where Americans got their hubris.
There’s talk of expanding the franchise. The public thinks that means them. They don’t want equality, they don’t want fairness, they don’t want sustainability. There’s no room for god, God, Jesus, or Christ in their ambitions: they want privilege. If a dozen people have privilege, they’ll let fifteen people have privilege, but they sure as hell won’t do away with privilege. And neither will we.
(There are ways. There have always been ways. We won’t give them a fair hearing.)
When the Duke beats up on the Duchess and her foolish hope for expanding her own privilege, appealing to this hypocrite’s sense of decency … Hey, stupid lady, he has none! The Duke assured her that he can bury her, and her friends, and her righteousness.
And he’s right.
Except that he’s wrong: his own privilege is not immortal. By golly, it was gone before the movie was made.
OK, in a word, here’s what’s dreck about it:
Duchess Georgianna has a bit of individuality. Keira has an open road for her art. But poor Ralph Fiennes: he has to play a straw man, a nincompoop. He has to play him so the dumbest hypocrite in boob land, thinks, Oh, he’s a hypocrite!
The movie reminded me of Downton Abbey, also made for TV. I like the latter, what I’ve seen of it so far. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this Duchess too. The thing that makes it dreck, not Shakespeare, is its pandering to the Boobland denizens. The movie grovels before the moral certainty of Boobland: that while the Duke is a hypocrite, they, the boobs, are not. That while the Duke is stupid, they, the boobs, are not. The Duke is unChristian in his acceptance of privilege, the boobs have abolished privilege, have a free market, live in a democracy …
And, while we actually live in trashy trailers (or mansions built on stolen ground), we look at the great houses owned by the Duke, at his formal gardens, see his formal fawning friends, we think we belong! We think we have a right to look at Keira, as she takes drink N, gambles £ N, acts like if he can have a mistress, she can have a lover …
No, no, Duchess, you haven’t understood a thing.
Uh oh, forgot: what’s wrong with Downton Abbey is: evil, hypocrisy, inertia … is rife; but good triumphs! Good nature prevails over bad nature.
Oh, Jesus, save me.
In the comedies, Shakespeare lets the young-uns all marry at the end. But not in the tragedies. And not in the histories.
PS If we could time travel to the Brittish Isles, is there a time window where we could find a society that did not abuse privilege? did have a free market? was Christian? was not hypocritical?
How about, Could the people fly? with their own wings?