Highlighted by award-caliber performances by two of Hollywood's most acclaimed actors, this intimate HBO Films drama tells the hypothetical, behind-the-scenes story of tobacco heiress Doris Duke and her Irish butler Bernard Lafferty, showing how their relationship could have morphed from a strict employee-employer contract into something much deeper. As the film speculates, after arriving at the doorstep of Duke's mansion in 1987, Bernard slowly earned his way into the heiress' confidence, becoming her confidante and flamboyant companion at home and on trips, all while handling the affairs of her household. Their bond became so strong that it even survived Bernard's relapse into alcohol abuse, during which he was forced to take a sabbatical to go into rehab. By the time Duke died in 1993, Bernard was back at her side, remaining her most trusted advisor and dearest friend, despite skepticism about his financial motives from businessmen, lawyers and doctors in her inner circle.
A fictional drama that explores a relationship which took place primarily behind closed doors, Bernard and Doris offers an intriguing scenario that might explain how Doris Duke - the world-famous heiress and socialite who controlled a billion-dollar empire - might have decided to give posthumous control of her fortune to Bernard Lafferty, a homosexual and alcoholic who had been her personal butler for only six years.
Money, class and sexuality are among the issues explored in the movie, but at its core, Bernard and Doris is the imagined story of an extraordinary and intimate relationship between two real-life individuals who don't appear to fit into each other's worlds. While Duke's decision to name Lafferty her estate executor may have been the subject of multiple lawsuits and headlines, Bernard and Doris reaches beyond this sensationalism to render a witty, endearing tale about the unconventional, private bond between a society "princess" and her flawed-but-devoted "pauper" of a butler.
Bernard and Doris features riveting performances from two highly accomplished stars. An Oscar winner for Dead Man Walking and Oscar nominee for Thelma and Louise, Lorenzo's Oil, The Client and Atlantic City, Susan Sarandon also won acclaim for Bull Durham, The Witches of Eastwick, Alfie and Enchanted. Ralph Fiennes made his feature debut in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, leading Steven Spielberg to cast him in Schindler's List (Oscar nomination). Other notable films: Quiz Show, Strange Days, The English Patient (Oscar nomination), The Constant Gardener, The End of the Affair, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Red Dragon.