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'The Duchess': Free Spirits, Tight Laces And Scandal

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'The Duchess': Free Spirits, Tight Laces And Scandal

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'The Duchess': Free Spirits, Tight Laces And Scandal

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. British actress Keira Knightley has become Hollywood's go to star for costume epics. She's donned corsets and elaborate wigs for "Pride and Prejudice," "King Arthur," and all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. My co-host Robert Siegel had a chat with Keira Knightley, and we'll hear that in just a moment. First, Bob Mondello fills us in on her latest costume drama, "The Duchess."

BOB MONDELLO: Georgiana Spencer, who lived in the 18th century, was a distant relative of Princess Diana, Diana's great-great-great-great-aunt. And from the way she's played by Keira Knightley, it seems their lives had a quite a few parallels.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Duchess")

Mr. RALPH FIENNES (As the Duke of Devonshire): When she arrives, all eyes are upon her. When absent, she is the subject of universal conversation. And what we see her wearing tonight, I look forward to seeing the rest of you wearing tomorrow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FIENNES (As the Duke of Devonshire): The embrace of fashion herself, the Duchess of Devonshire. Ms. KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: (As Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) Somebody did indeed ask me what kind of feather it is that I'm wearing. Well, there are only two specimens of this rare bird known to man. One of them has clearly ended up on top of my head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KNIGHTLEY: (As Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire) And the other, rumor has it, is running for office in the Tory party.

MONDELLO: The screenplay blends Georgiana's involvement in politics and her involvement with a handsome young politician. So scandal rears its engagingly disruptive head early and often. Director Saul Dibb, presumably knowing that this is pretty standard stuff for a costume epic, occupies us not just with the usual visuals of his star upholstered in silks and brocades drifting through exquisitely furnished estates, but also with some intriguingly offbeat sights.

Knightley's wig, for instance, gets bigger and bigger as the character grows more unhappy, until finally it catches fire, leading to the immortal line, "Please put out Her Grace's hair." And when Her Grace undresses, the director shows us the pinch marks made in Knightley's back by a tightly laced corset. As many times as I've watched women getting strapped into those things in costume epics, I don't think I've ever seen the pinched flesh before. Says worlds about what both the star and the duchess were willing to put up with. I'm Bob Mondello.

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