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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
When Doris is reading her will, she identifies her city of residence as Somerville, New Jersey. Duke Farms, the site of Duke's residence, is actually in neighboring Hillsborough, New Jersey. Duke Farm now operates as a nature preserve and public park. See more »
"Bernard and Doris" is a quiet story about a billionairess and her butler brought to life by great actors, a good script and a director that let's them be. Doris Duke inherited millions of tobacco money at a very early age and tried to live a life. Bernard Lafferty was Irish-born, barely literate and simply wanted to do his job -- take care of Doris. He was rewarded, upon her death, with controlling interest in her estate. He died three years later of complications of alcoholism, a disease that plagued him throughout his life. This movie, directed by character actor Bob Balaban and starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Finnes, is steady and clear in its purpose -- to show us who these people were. Duke was shrewd with her money and philanthropic, too. She gave generously to the arts and education. Her personal life was a mess. She paid for sex with a very young piano player, much to Bernard's displeasure. Rarely do I talk about the soundtrack. It's usually a "heard but not noticed" kind of thing. In "Bernard and Doris" the soundtrack is integral. Wonderful jazz. Bernard worked for Peggy Lee at one point. He knew music and Doris even performed as part of a gospel group. Music was important to this pair. There's even sexual tension here, despite the fact that Bernard was gay. Frankly, that makes it all the more interesting. Finally, there isn't much excitement in "Bernard and Doris." It's all about characters. I found it a joy to watch two of the best actors on the planet become them.
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