Screen Test

TV review: HBO documentary of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds puts lump in your throat

A new documentary takes a fly-on-the wall look at the Star Wars actress and her relationship with her mother, both of whom died recently

The deaths of actresses Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds last month add poignancy to a new documentary about the mother and daughter.

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds is a fly-on-the-wall look at the uniquely close relationship between the Star Wars actress and the Singin' In The Rain star, which film-makers began documenting in 2014.

Despite numerous posthumous tributes written to them, the 90-minute movie does not feel redundant. Instead, it beautifully illustrates many of the qualities attributed to the two women, especially Fisher's famously sharp wit, which the camera here captures in all its unfiltered glory.

One highlight is the tour she gives of her home, providing a hilarious commentary on the kooky artwork that is itself worth tuning in for.

Fisher also offers a tender yet self-critical assessment of her relationship to Star Wars fandom, likening the mercenary ritual of signing autographs for cash to a "celebrity lap dance". And she brings that same humour and self-awareness to the subject of her lifelong struggle with manic depression.

 Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds.
Debbie Reynolds and an infant Carrie Fisher in Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds. PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Reynolds - an old-Hollywood, studio system-trained star who is always smiling and camera-ready - is a more guarded subject.

It is rare to see her without her game face on, even in old footage of her being told by reporters that Eddie Fisher, her first husband, was planning to divorce her.

Bright Lights briefly revisits that 1959 break-up, which scandalised Tinseltown when it emerged that Fisher was leaving America's sweetheart for her friend, Elizabeth Taylor.

But there is steel beneath Reynolds' sweet smile, as the star proved by bouncing back from that and another failed marriage.

The film-makers find her still going strong in her 80s, when she insists on continuing to perform her stage act despite her daughter's worries about her increasing frailty. The facade crumbles only when she speaks of Fisher's mental-health struggles, and cries. Her daughter, too, breaks down when worrying about her mother's health.

Given that it would be Fisher who died first, this adds another lump to your throat.


Terenia Edwards as Rachel Verinder in The Moonstone. PHOTO: BBC

The film may not be revelatory as an expose of two Hollywood icons, but as a celebration of love and resilience as captured in the smallest moments of their lives, it is remarkable.

The Moonstone is BBC's adaptation of the1868 Wilkie Collins novel of the same name, which is not just an old-fashioned whodunnit, but also the original one - the first detective novel written in the English language.

It first aired in Britain last year as a daytime drama aimed at younger viewers, but the intricacies of the source material - which established many conventions of the detective story - are reason enough for anyone to be curious.

The titular gemstone is a diamond that was plundered from India by an unscrupulous English colonel, who then bequeathed it to his niece, Rachel Verinder (Terenia Edwards).

Her cousin and childhood crush, the dashing Franklin Blake (Joshua Silver), is sent to the Verinders' country estate to deliver the gift on her 18th birthday, but it is then stolen from her bedroom in the middle of the night. All the servants, relatives and guests in the house become suspects, along with three mysterious Indian gentlemen thought to be trying to reclaim and repatriate the gem.

But Miss Verinder reacts oddly, inexplicably reluctant to aid the investigation into the theft, and she falls out with Mr Blake as a result.

  • VIEW IT / BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS

  • HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), Friday, 11.30am. Also available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602)

    4/5 stars

    THE MOONSTONE

    BBC First (StarHub TV Channel 522)

    2.5/5 stars

A year later, he returns determined to re-open and solve the case, enlisting the help of a retired police detective, Sergeant Cuff (John Thomson).

The five-part series has a lot going for it: two attractive, credible young leads who manage to convey thwarted sexual chemistry despite being hamstrung by chaste Victorian courtship rituals. These mostly consist of longing glances, with one naked torso shot thrown in.

It also retains the best elements of the book, including the twists and turns in the story, the use of multiple narrators and time frames, and a biting commentary on social class.

But the complex narrative structure sometimes gets away from the show, slowing the pace to a crawl.

Mimicking the book, there is a lot of verbal exposition rather than visual storytelling, which works on the page, but not so well here.

In other words, this may be a case of attempting too faithful an adaptation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Carrie Fisher through unfiltered lens'. Print Edition | Subscribe