The Duchess Of Malfi

Movie:  The Duchess Of Malfi

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   The Duchess Of Malfi is actually a play written by John Webster back in 1612.  This review covers a BBC film of a live production in 2014 performed at the Sam Wanamaker Theater in London, an intimate theater that seat only 340 on wooden benches that embrace the small stage on three sides, and is lit primarily by candles during the performance.  The production closely mimics how patrons would have seen the play back in the 17th century, and the audience members are frequently seen in close-up as they follow the performance.  This was a one day theater event that should be taken advantage of by people who would prefer intelligent entertainment over the usual movie fare.

The Duchess of Malfi (Gemma Arterton) is a widow who has been forbidden to remarry by her twin brother Ferdinand (David Dawson), the Duke of Malfi.  The Duke is intent on imposing his will on everyone, especially his sister, and he is frankly a little too enamored with the Duchess.  The Duchess is a willful individual as well, and falls in love with a lower class steward named Antonio (Alex Waldman).  The Duchess proposes to Antonio, and they are secretly wed with the Duke being none the wiser, even as the Duchess has three children with her secret husband.

There are other players with secrets that abound, such as the Cardinal (James Gatnon), who is also a brother to the Duke.  The cardinal takes some vows rather loosely, such as poverty and chastity.  He also is a corrupt man, constantly scheming to acquire power and money, and uses Bosola (Sean Gilder) as his tool to do his evil bidding.

There is malice in the palace, and corruption abounds with plots ensnaring multiple players as the plot progresses.  The body count is high, and to steal a title from another film, there will be blood.

Viewers may be put off by the antiquated language of the play, which is set in the early 16th century.  But after a while one gets enough of the gist of their dialogue to suss out what is happening.  All in all a very satisfying theater experience.

Actress To Watch:  Gemma Arterton really shows her acting ability in this role, displaying a range of emotions including real tears on cue.  She has come a long way since her starring role as a princess in Prince Of Persia:  Sands Of Time, and as a Bond Girl in Quantum Of Solace.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Duchess – “The misery of us who are born great.  We are forced to woo because others do not dare woo us.”

“Love, mixed with fear, is the sweetest.”

Antonio – “I will sleep here tonight.”  Duchess – “Alas, what pleasure can two people find in sleep.”

Duke – “Enjoy thy lust, and a wretched life, you vile woman!”

“Curses shall be their first language.”

Duchess – “I account this world as a tedious theater.  I am full of daggers.”

Duke – “Thou has done much ill well.”

“Black deeds must be cured by death!”

“Doctors are like kings; they brook no contradictions.”

Cardinal – “Because I knew you could not keep my secret I bound you to it with death.”

 

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