'Fergie & Andrew' gives new meaning to royal flush

TELEVISION REVIEW

September 28, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

If you think you have in-law problems, wait until you see "Fergie & Andrew: Behind the Palace Doors" at 9 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2 ).

In NBC's telling, Sarah Ferguson, has nothing but problems. There's trouble with her royal in-laws. Trouble with a vicious group of palace insiders who scheme day and night to destroy her because "she is not of the proper breeding." Trouble with a husband portrayed as a couch potato, who thinks a great night at the castle is spent plopped in front of the TV with his remote control watching war movies. Trouble, trouble, trouble.

And isn't that just the kind of stuff we love to see dished up in the delicious and utterly indefensible behind-closed-doors genre of made-for-TV movies?

NBC could not have hoped for a better publicity campaign for the film than the one the real-life Duchess of York unwittingly provided last month when pictures of her sunbathing topless with Texas businessman John Bryan were splattered across tabloids in England and the United States. In fact, NBC is using the actual tabloid headlines in its promotional campaign. "Inside Fergie's Love Nest," one headline says. "Fergiegate," says another.

And although shooting for the movie had been finished before the scandal broke, the filmmakers rushed back into production -- in the name of art no doubt -- and shot two final scenes that refer to the scandal.

In one, the slimiest of the palace insiders is shown reading about the duchess and Bryan. Folding the newspaper and speaking to the camera, he blames the duchess' own "stupidity" and "lack of judgment" for her downfall. "She's always going off on holiday with one American or another," the reptilian courtier says with great distaste. "That's bad enough. But why does she consider it necessary to take her shirt off in the process?"

I'll spare you all the socio-psych-talk about fairy tales and royalty and the collective unconscious. The film itself is heavy-handed enough in its working of that 40 acres.

"In the beginning, it was like a fairy tale," the duchess tells her father. "I married the prince and was going to live happily ever after." Instead, she says bitterly, her life has come to this: "My husband's always at sea. I'm living with in-laws. And I have a job I hate."

For the record, Pippa Henchley plays the duchess and Sam Miller plays Prince Andrew. But this is the kind of film for which actors are chosen because they look like the real-life person they are depicting rather than for how well they can act. The physical resemblance is crucial to feeling we are behind closed doors.

And we are going to be taken behind those doors of the Windsor household a lot this TV season. In November, CBS is offering a three-hour movie titled "The Wives of Windsor." In February, NBC returns with "Diana: Her True Story," based on Andrew Morton's best-seller. And ABC joins the hunt with "Charles and Diana: A Palace Divided."

Speaking of the princess, she pops up a number of times in tonight's film as a terribly unhappy woman, but one who has dedicated herself to doing her duty. Indicative

of just how far we get to go behind closed doors in the film, we hear the princess admit that she wears gloves at royal functions because her hands sometimes sweat and we get to see Prince Charles give her a tongue lashing for "acting like a stupid schoolgirl" in public with the duchess. There is, however, no talk of anorexia or suicide.

"Fergie & Andrew" is rife with all the ills of docudrama. Bedroom scenes, which only Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York could have known the details of, are made up out of thin air and screenwriter fancy. You can see the script tiptoeing around offending certain parties, such as the queen.

In the end, you have absolutely no idea what's true and what's not -- you haven't really gone behind any closed doors. But, all that said, there's undeniable pleasure in living the video illusion of going through the Windsors' garbage.

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