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Keira Knightley is The Duchess

An article and The Duchess' stills from the Daily Mail:

Classy Keira Knightley's Georgian affair

Trouble in paradise: Keira Knightley as Georgiana on the set of The Duchess

Keira Knightley sipped a mug of builder's tea and told me all about a menage a trois she's currently involved in.

The Academy Award-nominated actress was caught up in the hankypanky as part of her portrayal of 18th-century British beauty Lady Georgiana Spencer, who became the Fifth Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady Georgiana was the celebrity star of her day. And the savage satirical caricatures of her were just as intrusive as the paparazzi who stalk Keira today.

Fine dining: Keira is a picture of old world glamour

As far as society was concerned, her marriage at 17 to William, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, was a splendid alliance. They were seen as prime movers in the Whig aristocracy.

The Duchess befriended Lady Elizabeth Foster, known as Bess, but Bess bedded the Duke - and never left. (The Duke and Bess, by the way, are portrayed by Ralph Fiennes and Hayley Atwell.)

"On paper, they should have been very happy. From the outside, it certainly appeared idyllic," Keira told me on the set of The Duchess, where she was filming a scene in which she shares a soulless supper with the Duke.

"But this was at a time when women didn't own anything. They had no rights to their children. They were a belonging."

The film, she went on, is about a woman who has to seek a place where she can feel comfortable and loved. So Georgiana struck up some very intense relationships - one of them with Bess.

Keira said she was fascinated by the intensity of friendships between women of that era, and had read some of the correspondence between Georgiana and Bess: "Some of the letters are like love letters. In modern ways you might say they're lesbians, or whatever, but I don't think that they ever had a physical relationship."

On the run: Keira frollics with her co-stars on set

She took a swig of tea and continued: "In any case, that friendship goes a little bit wrong because she f***** my husband. Lovely!"

Although it was a betrayal of the friendship, Bess's intimate relations with the Duke were almost a means of survival.

For years, the three of them lived together almost openly.

Georgiana formed other liaisons, some romantic, some political, and she remained at the centre of London society.

Producer Gaby Tana said that Georgiana had incredible spirit and survival instincts.

"We live in an age where people wallow in their difficulties. She overcame hers, despite all impediments." Those impediments included bulimia and an addiction to gambling.

Producer Gaby Tana said that Georgiana had incredible spirit and survival instincts.

"We live in an age where people wallow in their difficulties. She overcame hers, despite all impediments." Those impediments included bulimia and an addiction to gambling.

Ms Tana secured the rights to Amanda Foreman's best-selling exploration of Georgiana's life soon after publication and has spent eight crazy years preparing to bring it to the screen.

"It was screaming out to be a movie," she declared.

At one point, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet were involved, as was Rachel Weisz.

Directors David Yates, Paul Greengrass and Susanne Bier all considered directing it. But it was Saul Dibb who got the job.

I caught Mr Dibb, who also directed Bullet Boy and The Line Of Beauty for the BBC, observing Keira and Ralph (and two well-behaved English pointers) in the magnificent marble hall at Clandon Park in Surrey, which was doubling as Devonshire House's dining room.

(By the way, I spotted the same pointers sitting at Francesca Annis's feet in the BBC1 drama Cranford... those dogs get around.)

Anyway, Mr Dibb said that this 18th-century world of sprawling mansions, fantastic wealth and privilege might seem very foreign to our modern eyes, but we shouldn't be fooled.

"These people were having affairs, there was betrayal, and you have this beautiful woman who had power but was powerless.

"You're in a marriage that's arranged for you. He can have affairs openly, but you can't. It feels like a lot has changed, but it hasn't really."

The picture will look at seven or eight pivotal years of Georgiana's life. And it provides a great role for Keira, the latest in her recent dramatic streak that has included Joe Wright's brilliant Oscar hopeful Atonement and John Maybury's The Edge Of Love, which she filmed this summer with Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys.

Keira, meanwhile, is still in one of the many gowns created for her by The Duchess costume designer Michael O'Connor.

In fact, once the panniers and bum flounce are added, the dresses take up so much space that the producers, Ms Tana and Michael Kuhn, extended Keira's trailer to better accommodate them.

Keira's bum flounce is larger than most because the actress has such a tiny derriere. The smaller the bottom, the more abundant the ornamentation required.



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