Set in 1930s Shanghai, where a blind American diplomat develops a curious relationship with a young Russian refugee who works odd -- and sometimes illicit -- jobs to support members of her dead husband's aristocratic family.
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Sympathetic look loosely based on the relationship between tobacco heiress, Doris Duke (1912-1993) - think Duke University - and her shy butler, Bernard Lafferty. The icy and mercurial Duke fires her butler for serving a chilled cantaloupe; the agency sends Lafferty, formerly household staff to Liz Taylor and to Peggy Lee. He's an alcoholic, fresh out of rehab. He gradually becomes Duke's gay alter ego as she romps through life sleeping with young men, making shrewd decisions quickly, managing her fortune and orchids as Lafferty manages her New Jersey estate. With a wine cellar to die for, Bernard falls off the wagon. Can he pull himself together when Doris needs him? Written by
Famed true-crime author, journalist and mover within exclusive society and socialite circles, the late Dominick Dunne, makes a cameo appearance as a member of Doris Duke's advisory board. See more »
"She said it was important. 'Perhaps I will get the feeling back ..." It's the same body of a newspaper article for two different articles. Around 23 minutes into movie. One article had headline of Doris Duke attending opening with Leonard Bernstein. The second headline was her buying a Boeing 737 for $25 million. See more »
If there is a clue to the relationship between Doris Duke and her live-in assistant, Bernard Lafferty, it seems to be the moment in which she asks him point blank: "What do you want from me?" After all, Ms. Duke was used to buy people left and right, as it was rumored was the case when she paid a million dollars to French actress Danielle Darrieux for the privilege of divorcing playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. Doris, who evidently got tired of people and things easily, had the upper hand in dealing with what she needed at any particular moment.
"Bernard and Doris", an HBO film, directed by Bob Balaban, and conceived by Hugh Costello, is based on a relationship that is perhaps a fantasy in the mind of its creators. Fact and fiction are mixed freely, although this movie doesn't try to give us reality because after all, Doris Duke's real life story would have probably made a Hollywood epic.
Some things that come out in the film show us an heiress who enjoyed sex. That explains her marriage to Rubirosa a notorious man of mystical sexual prowess. Doris is seen bedding a rough man who, while satisfying her, he sought to have fun with her maid as well. When she fired the servant she immediately regrets it because of being fond of the way she worked.
Bernard Lafferty, a man that had a huge drinking problem, came to work for Doris during her last years. In the film, Bernard is subservient and meek, when reality indicates he probably ruled Doris life with an iron fist. The figure that emerges is not exactly who one could imagine him to be because of the many accusations after Doris' death. The real Lafferty and the screen Lafferty are two different persons.
The film is worth a look because of the work of the two principals. Susan Sarandon is totally convincing as Doris as is the case with Ralph Fiennes the way his character was conceived for this screen treatment. This is one of Susan Sarandon's best roles in quite some time. Mr. Fiennes is great fun to watch as the gay butler that loved to wear his employer's finery.
Maurice Rubinstein's cinematography captures the plush interiors of the Duke's estate. Alex Wurman contributed the music score and the editing of Andy Keir work well with Mr. Balaban overall concept.
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