Inspired by the true story of tobacco billionairess Doris Duke and her devoted Irish butler Bernard Lafferty, the touching HBO Films drama Bernard and Doris stars Oscar® winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) and Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient). After failed relationships with her previous waitstaff, Doris meets Lafferty, fresh out of rehab and without a penny to his name. She takes him on as her butler and he is put in the unenviable position of having to convince the notoriously demanding Duke to keep him in her employ. Directed by Bob Balaban (Gosford Park), the film effectively captures the elegance of a bygone era and is scored with countless musical standards, such as Peggy Lee's "The Best Is Yet To Come". Bernard and Doris tells the witty and endearing tale of an unconventional bond between a society "princess" and her flawed "pauper" of a butler.
Bravura turns by Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon in the title roles carry Bernard and Doris
, director Bob Balabans 2007 film about the long relationship between zillionaire tobacco heiress-philanthropist Doris Duke and her butler, Bernard Lafferty. These are two fine actors (Sarandon has been nominated for five Oscars, winning for Dead Man Walking
, while Fiennes has been nominated twice) at the top of their games. Thats a good thing, as they are on screen almost constantly; and the truth is that other than the evolution of the Duke-Lafferty bond, not a lot actually happens. Sarandon delivers a measured, almost casual performance as Duke, a woman who seems relatively unpretentious (if clearly entitled) about her vast fortune, despite have done absolutely nothing to earn it. Duke barely even acknowledges her various employees, except to fire them (or occasionally sleep with them; the twice-married heiress has a predilection for studly, much younger men)--until Lafferty comes along, that is. Stone broke and fresh out of rehab (his alcoholism is an ongoing theme), the shy Irishman gradually ingratiates himself with his demanding employer until he becomes as much a companion as a servant. It helps that as a gay man, he has no interest in seducing her; moreover, unlike the many others who are out to get their hands on her money, Lafferty seems to genuinely value loyalty and friendship over more venal concerns ("I just want to take care of you," he says in one of several poignant scenes), and hes rewarded with several million dollars and full control of her estate after her death (in 1993). Fiennes is also admirably restrained in a role that could have been meretricious and over the top; combine that with a fine script (by Hugh Costello) and some great songs by Peggy Lee, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. --Sam Graham