The movie explores the marriage, relationships, and passions of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. 17-year-old Georgiana (Kierra Knightly) is delighted to have excited the notice of the much older Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), and marries him amid high personal and family expectations. Unfortunately for Georgiana, the Duke is an undemonstrative and tight-lipped man who is far more interested in his dogs than in getting to know his new wife. He does nothing to alleviate her wedding night fears, and does his husbandly duty with few words and a noticable lack of tenderness. He makes it clear at the outset to both Georgiana and her mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling), that it is Georgiana's duty to bear him a male heir in short order.