Release Date: 20 February 2015
Running time: 104 min
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Monica Swinn, Chiara D’Anna
Bathed in an autumnal glow, there is a nostalgic beauty to The Duke of Burgundy, Peter Strickland’s follow up to the critically acclaimed Berberian Sound Studio. While having very different subject matters, both offer a voyeuristic look into often unseen worlds. Having lifted the veil on the inner workings of filmmaking, namely the sound editing process in Berberian Sound Studio, he now turns his focus to a BDSM relationship between Sidse Babett Knudsen’s lepidopterist Cynthia and her housekeeper, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna).
There is a satisfying crispness to Strickland’s presentation, as image and sound combine in a pleasingly clinical way. Sound Studio featured Toby Jones hacking up chunks of watermelon next to a microphone; here, doors creak open and slam shut, leather straps tighten against flesh, and corsets are cinched almost to the point of suffocation. Combine this to the impeccable set and costume design, it creates an otherworldly, timeless feel to it all.
Not just all about style -although it does look bloody marvellous- Strickland’s observations are hugely insightful, examining the nature of a very distinct type of relationship. The Duke of Burgundy offers a fascinating look at the balance of power in a dominant-submissive relationship and how this balance is altered when love is thrown into the equation. The director shows a respect for his subject matter (and his audience for that matter) that puts Christian Grey and his red room to shame.
It is fair to say that this is not a film that readily invites you in, as Strickland seems content to offer only fragments of the story at a time. Conversations are joined midway through, while other, longer segments play out without dialogue at all, leaving it to the central leads to say much with just a look. It is a challenge they clearly relish; their chemistry is palpable and electric. It’s a story that rewards patience, the pieces fall into place through rhythm and repetition, underpinned by a gloriously haunting soundtrack from alternative pop duo, Cat’s Eye. Like its subject matter, The Duke of Burgundy won’t be for everyone, but if you’re willing to submit to its charms, you’re in for a treat.