When Doris Duke died in 1993, she was one of the richest women in
the world and a highly respected philanthropist. She was the sole heir
of the tobacco fortune established by her father and grandfather.
Grandpa was THE Duke, as in Duke University. Doris left behind one of
the most famous wills in recent history, a sort of honest-to-goodness,
perfectly valid, equivalent of the Howard Hughes / Melvin Dummar will, in that she left a vast sum of
money to her gay butler and made him the trustee of all of her
This film is an attempt to explain that action.
A rather poor attempt.
The opening credits inform us that, "Part of the story is based on
fact. And part is not." That alone should be a red flag warning us
that the bull is about to be shot in profuse quantities. If the
bullshit alone were the problem, I would not really be complaining.
After all, such historical speculations are commonplace and will
continue to be despite my distaste for them. Where the film really
falls down is that it completely ignores the specific portion of
Doris's life when she actually re-wrote the will in favor of her
butler. There's no attempt to show how she made that decision, or what
went through her mind as she considered it. There's no attempt to show
the reactions of her lawyer or lawyers. The entire film concentrates
only on various anecdotes concerning Doris and her butler, and as the
title card warns us, many of those anecdotes are imaginary.
In other words, it's a film about why a rich woman re-wrote a will to
favor her butler, but it has no scenes which dramatize the creation of
the will or the thought process behind it, and the scenes which are in
the film are often imaginary.
What's even worse, the scenes aren't that interesting either.
Based on the value of the superficial script, this would be just
another slapdash, sensationalized made-for-TV quickie except that the
specific TV channel which made it is the prestigious HBO. Such is the
respect accorded that company that two distinguished A-list actors
accepted the roles of Doris Duke (Susan Sarandon) and the gay Irish
butler (Ralph Fiennes). OK, then it has that goin' for it. But strip
away Fiennes and Sarandon, and what's left is a project which was just
not worth doing in the first place.
If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to
explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by
our definition, a
C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs
and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: