The Duchess (2008)
Based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), this 2008 film stars Keira Knightley as the 18th century aristocrat who became one of the main ‘influencers’ political and societal issues of his time.
The film chronicles the life of Georgiana – of wide-eyed, wide-eyed Lady Georgiana Spencer, 17, full of hope on the occasion of her marriage to the surprisingly wealthy 5th Duke of Devonshire; to a famous company hostess who moved with political radicals such as Charles Gray and Charles James Fox. The story is not without tragedy, exploring the rift between its apparent public power and the remarkable threesome in her personal life, as her husband moves his mistress (and Georgiana’s friend) into their home. A love story unfolds as the Duchess disenchants her family life and gets closer to one of her political allies …
“Part of her life has become extraordinarily glamorous and highly publicized,” said film historical advisor Hannah Greig. Additional Podcast Story in 2008. “The reality of her private life was much less glamorous.”
Testament of Youth (2014)
A portrait of war love in all its forms, Testament of Youth is based on WWI memoirs of the same name by Vera Brittain (1893-1970), often described as the symbolic story of a lost generation. Published in August 1933, the memoir captures the impact of World War I on the lives of women, while paying homage to those Brittain had lost. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander stars as Vera Brittain, while the men she looks after are played by Taron Egerton, Kit Harington and Colin Morgan.
In 2015, Brittain’s daughter Baroness Shirley Williams revealed her thoughts on the film in an interview for HistoryExtra. “Testament of Youth captures the conventions of the Edwardian period, ”she said. “But more importantly, the coverage of the WWI film is astoundingly authentic – it doesn’t hide the tragedies of the war.”
Young Victoria (2009)
They are one of the most famous matches in history, and Queen Victoria’s love for her husband, Prince Albert, is well documented. In her own diary, the monarch wrote that the royal couple hardly slept on their wedding night. And in 2018, Victoria writer Daisy Goodwin said HistoryExtra how the queen once described “how gorgeous Albert looks in his ‘white cashmere slipper’ with nothing underneath!” She is very frank about her admiration for the male form.
In Young Victoria, the princess is played by Emily Blunt, who struggles under the influence of her bossy mother and house controller, Sir John Conroy. She meets Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha while she is still the heir apparent to the British throne. Although relations are freezing at first, they bond as Victoria faces challenges to claim her crown.
The couple got married in February 1840, and we see how the newlyweds flew a half hour alone together before their wedding breakfast (Victoria gives Albert a ring and he tells her they should never keep secrets from each other). Not everything is simple, however, and the film takes a little artistic license with the danger they faced as a couple (for example, when Albert is shot and wounded as a result of an assassination attempt on the life of the queen). Nonetheless, it is a pleasant depiction of the early stages of one of the most famous marriages in royal history, which was formed on genuine chemistry, affection and dedication.
Dido Elizabeth Belle (c1761-1804) was an 18th century woman born into slavery in the British West Indies, the result of an illegitimate union between Sir John Lindsay, an English officer, and a slave Maria Belle. When Lindsay returned to England, he took his daughter and gave her to his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield.
Cinema 2013 Beautiful traces her life, showing how Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was raised as an educated woman alongside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. Although the two share a close relationship, there were still clear differences in their status – as shown in the film. When Elizabeth is introduced to society in order to make a good marriage, for example, Belle goes to London just as her mate.
As Belle’s guardian, Mansfield, presides over two of the most important cases in the history of the abolition of slavery in Britain (the Somersett Affair of 1772 and the Zong Affair of 1783), Belle takes growing political awareness and forging links with anti-slavery activist John Davinier, a love story that overcomes the inevitable prejudices of the time.
Belle and Jean made marry in real life and have three sons together (although Davinier is actually a servant rather than an apprentice lawyer). Nonetheless, the film is a rich mix of engaging period drama and compelling social history, showcasing a remarkable black British life.
Outside Africa (1985)
Danish author Isak Dinesen (real name Karen Blixen) was first published Outside of Africa, his account of colonial life in Kenya, in 1937. The 1985 film with Meryl Streep explores Blixen’s experiences establishing his coffee plantation. With its glamorous colonial setting, the film is not without its problems, and some of Blixen’s experiences are often seen as embellished; for example, footage from the film shows the Dane fighting lions with a whip as she crosses the savannah to visit her wandering husband.
The central romance between Blixen and English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (played by American Robert Redford) is never confirmed in Blixen’s memoir (though her adoration for him is clear in her account, and she writes how Finch Hatton would base himself on his farm for safaris or trips). Nonetheless, it’s a gripping story, and the film remains popular and memorable for its lavish music, stunning aerial scenes, and chemistry that establishes the central love story.
Shining Star (2009)
Shining star is a low-key and understated representation of the love story between romantic poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne (1800-1865). Jane Campion’s film follows the last three years of the young poet who, distant and serious, is captured by the lively 18-year-old seamstress. Taking its name from a sonnet said to have been written for Brawne, Shining star captures their intense bond that has been forged despite social and class constraints. As the movie shows, many felt that Brawne was too inconstant and flirtatious for the poet. Even after his death, when the love letters sent to Brawne by Keats were published in 1878, many viewed Brawne as an object unworthy of Keats’ affection.
Still, their relationship prevailed. In 1819 Keats wrote to Brawne: “My love has made me selfish. I can’t exist without you – I forget everything, but seeing you again – my Life seems to end there – I can’t see any further. You absorbed me. At this moment I have the feeling of dissolving myself: I would be exquisitely miserable without the hope of seeing you again soon.
The intense relationship between Brawne and Keats lasted from 1818 until his death from tuberculosis, at just 25, in 1821.