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With her film 'The Young Victoria," Sarah Ferguson reinvents herself yet again

DUCHESS TREAT: Sarah Ferguson's film
DUCHESS TREAT: Sarah Ferguson's film "The Young Victoria" chronicles a torrid royal love affair. (Photos By Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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Wearing a navy Michael Kors jacket -- brass-buttoned, and quite American -- Ferguson ordered Earl Grey tea, room temperature tap water and an arugula salad with smoked trout, beets and pears (heavy on the pepper and balsamic). She unilaterally recalls her drubbing and dubbing long ago as "Duchess of Pork" in London tabs. Ferguson has a few more lines around her eyes now, and beneath her famous copper hair she exudes a bit of steel in her voice, the confidence of age tempered by a lifetime being beloved and then belittled, all in the public eye.

Happily ever after, but . . .

Loneliness inside the palace -- something richly portrayed in the "The Young Victoria" -- came soon to Ferguson after 300 million people around the world watched the horse-drawn carriage procession at her Westminster Abbey wedding. Two weeks after she and Andrew married, Andrew was sent to sea as a British naval officer. Romance novelist Barbara Cartland was the by-marriage relative of Princess Diana, but here Fergie was experiencing a romance novel plot come to life. The 26-year-old duchess was left to live on her own inside her second-floor chambers in Buckingham Palace. The newlyweds saw each other for just 40 days in each of the first five years of their marriage.

She wishes, now, she says, that they had insisted on being together and said, " 'No. I am not going to do that." But in a royal family where military service for young princes is seen as a requirement and rules are made by palace forces whom Ferguson calls the "Gray Wind," Andrew was patrolling the coasts and she raised their infant daughters.

"People say, 'Why aren't you married if you are so happy?' " she says, returning to her current status. "Why should I marry again? I am asking you -- why?" she repeats. "Because everybody thinks to be happily married is the end of the happily-ever-after fairy tale, because that is what we are brought up with? In very modern 2009, we are the happiest divorced couple. We are happy the way things are. . . . We don't have to get married again in order to live happily ever after."

Having left behind her Weight Watchers days, Ferguson is enjoying being Hollywood Sarah. She pitched the idea for "The Young Victoria" to British producer Graham King when he was working on "The Departed." She hoped he would enjoy a departure from the Boston mob saga, and instead would want to focus on the young, fun and romantic side of Britain's longest-ruling monarch, who is often pictured as the mourning widow with a black veil over her head. Victoria was less dour than her portraiture, and should you require evidence of passion: She had nine children with Albert before outliving him by 40 years.

The movie focuses on their love and how the young couple navigated the palace handlers. It was filmed inside actualBritish palaces and landmarks, with Ferguson turning the proverbial keys: She helped arrange access and used her unique status as a former member of the royal family to help as needed. Her eldest daughter, Beatrice, has a cameo in the movie, which stars Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada").

Declaring independence

Eugenie rings up on the cellphone, just as Ferguson is gushing infectiously about how it's "cool" to meet producer Martin Scorsese, Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes and other stars on the film. Just the night before, she was with her two daughters in Los Angeles, where they ended up giggling on the floor outside their hotel room after they were briefly locked out.

It's the kind of thing that wouldn't happen inside the royal bubble.

And with their lineage and potential, her daughters are in the spotlight, tracked by the paparazzi at home and abroad. Sarah has made sure they "know the rules for them."

Unlike their mother, who willingly married into the royal family, Beatrice and Eugenie "don't have a choice: They are princesses . . . when they close the front door they are on . . . nobody wants to see a bad-tempered princess."

As a young bride in Buckingham Palace, Ferguson's fashion sense and shape were criticized by the tabloids, which called her crass and compared her unflatteringly with her friend, Princess Diana. One, she recalls, even proclaimed that "82 percent of men would rather sleep with a goat than with me."

In England, it has remained harder for her to reinvent herself, to move on from the toe-sucking fiasco.

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