The Duke of Burgundy is the third feature by director, Peter Strickland. Unlike the lurid, popcorn melodrama of 50 Shades of Grey, The Duke of Burgundy takes a complex and subtle view of the power dynamics of a dominant/submissive love story.
The Duke of Burgundy centers on Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna). The opening third of the film drops the viewer into a day-in-the-life of Cynthia and Evelyn’s relationship. The first words of the film are Cynthia admonishing Evelyn for arriving late to her daily cleaning and household duties. Quickly, we are presented with the rules, expectations, and punishments that occur between the evidently dominant Cynthia and the outwardly submissive Evelyn. However, this is where the movie takes a turn and becomes exponentially more fascinating.
I will not spoil the twist the film takes at about the one-third mark, but I will say the dynamic we are initially shown is not as clear and simple as we are first led to believe. The film through repetition, variations on previous scenes, surrealistic flourishes, and wry humor, slowly reveals Cynthia and Evelyn’s relationship to be as complex, difficult, messy, and heartbreaking as any love relationship.
This film is a deep and frustrating love story that would fit nicely in the neo-gothic romance world inhabited by Portrait of a Lady On Fire and The Phantom Thread. The Duke of Burgundy enriches the beautiful narrative with lush, textured visuals, an evocative score by Cat’s Eyes, and a production design that approaches the intricate perfection of The Remains of the Day. Do not miss The Duke of Burgundy.