Watching two powerful and exceptionally talented actors play across from each other is something of a marvel, and that is certainly part of what makes BERNARD AND DORIS a great film.
Based around the late history of tobacco heiress Doris Duke (here played beautifully by Susan Sarandon, In the Valley of Elah) and her close relationship with butler Bernard Lafferty (the phenomenal Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges), the film is a fictional take on the pair's relationship. Although no one knows what really happened between them, it is obvious that a friendship of unique qualities emerged. And Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon are to be complimented on their astounding performances. Particularly Mr. Fiennes, who seems to turn every role he touches into gold (he did this, too, with his portrayal of The Duke of Devonshire in The Duchess). That Ms. Duke left millions of dollars under the stewardship of Mr. Lafferty after her death is a documented fact, proving that she trusted him implicitly (Ms. Duke was a very savvy businesswoman).
Some might think that sex had a part to play in it, but that would be a fools mistake because Mr. Lafferty was gay. And Ralph Fiennes plays the part of an early homosexual with perfect subtlety. His blossoming occurs under the keen eye of Doris, and the two give each other what they both need: companionship. It is a touching moment when Doris -- in a flustered state -- yells as Bernard and asks him, "What do you want from me?!" To which he simply replies, "To take care of you." And that is exactly what Doris needed in her waning years.
As Doris grows older and more ill (a debilitating stroke hits her), Bernard is given the opportunity to truly care for her, and he does so with Doris' final wishes at the forefront ("No one sees Ms. Duke without my permission.") Much of this leads to confrontations with her legal council and those worried about Doris' accumulated wealth. Was Bernard doing as Ms. Duke wished? Or was he just biding his time until Doris died and then pounce on her funds?
Regardless what you believe, Bernard was only given $5 million dollars and the rest he oversaw as a steward of many of Doris Duke's foundations. And upon his death (only a few years after Doris'), he donated all of his remaining money back to the Duke Foundation ...which should put to rest any worries about his motives.
Strangely enough, after this film was shown at a film festival, it was switched from a theatrical release and went straight to cable television. But the bigwigs at the film companies were dead wrong to do that. The performances are stellar and the movie engaging. It has now garnered 10 Emmy nominations (that's a ton!), three Golden Globe nominations, and two Screen Actors Guild nods. Had this movie been released to the general public via theaters, I feel certain it would've garnered even more notice. Shame on whoever let that slip through their fingers...