1 9 8 4 (USA)
4 x 160 minute episodes
This CBS miniseries was based on the 1983 novel by Judith Krantz, who had well-and-truly mastered the highly lucrative art of propelling supertrash to the top of the best-seller list (she also wrote Scruples and Princess Daisy).
The overheated melodrama began in France in 1925 and revolved around (fictional) French painter Julien Mistral (Stacy Keach), a card-carrying genius who is loved by two generations of women in the same Lunel family – not to mention his wife Kate (Lee Remick) and other miscellaneous females.
Stacy Keach moved over from Mike Hammer to play this unsympathetic nonhero – a Frenchman with an American accent and a fiery red wig, burdened with lines like “If I don’t feel a brush in my hand again, I think I’ll go mad.”
Ms Krantz regarded geniuses as “terrible people” with all that brain power warping their personalities.
Therefore Julien is depicted as a monomaniac, totally absorbed in his work and himself. During World War II he is callous enough to leave his Jewish friends dying on the doorstep while he cultivates the Nazis to get his needed paints.
The first wave of the Lunel family is represented by 18-year-old Maggy, a little Jewish girl fresh from the provinces and bent on becoming an artist’s model because her teacher said she was “born to be painted”. Powers, who was in her 40s, managed to look younger and played Maggy with considerable charm, albeit with a cod-French accent straight out of Berlitz.
At first, she didn’t take to Mistral, but eventually, they had an affair, supplying him with the “passion” he needed to speak his genius. Evidently, the light reflected from her skin drove him wild.
Meanwhile, rich American heiress Kate (played with superb malice by Lee Remick) interested an art dealer in Mistral’s work and persuaded the artist to marry her – leaving Maggy stranded.
Maggy was not left in the lurch for long because rich American banker Perry Kilkullen (Timothy Dalton) fell in love with her, and they had a romantic idyll which resulted in a daughter called Teddy.
Unfortunately, KilKullen was uncharacteristically careless about his personal business affairs, and when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack without a will, Maggy was literally left penniless on the dock in New York.
While selling her jewellery to a Jewish merchant (Shane Rimmer), he helped her get a job as a model in a fashion house owned by Alberto Bianchi (Victor Spinetti). There she met socialite Lally Longbridge (Joanna Lumley), who introduced her to publisher Jason Darcy (Robert Urich). With his support, she subsequently rose to power as the head of a New York model agency.
Meanwhile, Mistral was painting up a storm in his house in Provence, which was Kate’s dowry.
Costing $15 million to produce, the miniseries was photographed in Paris and Provence resulting in some superb outdoor footage which – had it been matched by the acting and the story – would have made this a first-rate drama.
The steamy love scenes had an unusual fixation on feet: Mistral seduced Maggy by massaging her feet. Kilkullen was more subtle, touching her tootsies with a daisy.
There was also a strong thread of Jewish heritage running through the novel and the script, which introduced a somewhat higher theme than Mistral’s mixed-up love life.
This wasn’t Brideshead Revisited and didn’t pretend to be anything other than high-gloss well-crafted fluff designed to win big ratings (which it did).
The “daughter” of the title refers to the only woman whom Mistral truly loves – Fauve (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who is the illegitimate daughter of Mistral and Teddy (Stephanie Dunnam), who herself was the illegitimate daughter of Maggy and Perry Kilkullen.
Mary Jane Kilkullen