Bernard and Doris


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

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 foundations.

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.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the 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:


The marginal recommendation is based solely on Sarandon and Fiennes. Apart from their performances, the film is not worth your time.


  • Susan Sarandon's left breast is visible when her nightie is pulled aside in a sex scene.

  • There is one naked male butt from an unidentified lover who was in bed with Doris when she had her first stroke.




  New York Times

Variety's take on the film is just about identical to mine. The New York Times feels that the film has some merit as a character study of the two protagonists.





One film festival, then an official cable premiere.





6.5 IMDB summary (of 10)






* Widescreen anamorphic.