Monday, June 13, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: Finding Sarah

FINDING SARAH: From Royalty to the Real World
OWN Network
Sundays at 9:00 p.m.

About the show (from the OWN Network site): Candid and unprecedented, the six-part television series Finding Sarah documents Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York's emotional struggle to rebuild her life. In the series, viewers will hear the Duchess' personal story and witness her unforgettable journey of healing and self-improvement.

To guide her through the ultimate mind/body makeover, she seeks guidance from traditional and non-traditional experts - a shaman, life coach, trainer and a horse whisperer - along with Oprah's "All Stars," Dr. Phil and Suze Orman.

Together they help the Duchess address tough personal issues, ranging from finances to self esteem to physical fitness. Calling upon her inner-strength and resilience, the Duchess comes to terms with past missteps, tackles major life changes and even attempts an unforgettable physical challenge in the Arctic.

Through it all, the Duchess hopes that as she heals and finds the true Sarah, and that others will learn from her story.

My thoughts:  I wasn't sure at first whether or not I was going to watch There was quite a good deal in the newspapers last week about Sarah's claims of abuse, which were blown out of proportion, frankly.  During her talks with Dr. Phil, she mentions what we might call emotional abuse, but certainly it wasn't intended that way.  Her mother Susan spanked her as a child, which was not uncommon in the 1960's, part of that whole 'spare the rod, spoil the child' ethos.  And both her parents were quite tough emotionally, they didn't condone a great deal of whinging or crying from their children, and they seem not to have been demonstrative in their affections. From all accounts, Sarah was quite an emotional child, and what her parents said to her, calling her a sheep's arse, selling her ponies (which really was obnoxious on her father's part, but then he was going to through a divorce and wasn't really thinking about how it affected his children).

Sarah's problems seem to have stemmed from her mother's running off with the handsome Argentinian polo player Hector Barrantes. Back then, it wasn't again uncommon for upper class father's to get custody of their children in the event of a divorce (witness Princess Diana's father Earl Spencer getting custody of his four children), particularly when there was adultery on the part of the mother.  I'm sure that Sarah's mother Susan believed that because her daughters were teenagers, that her leaving would be less traumatic, than it was say for Diana whose mother left when she was a small child.

I really began to feel for Sarah, I know what is like to have well-meaning parents, who loved me, say unkind things without realizing how it might affect me.  I also understand, as I'm sure quite a lot of viewers do, what it's like to turn to food for comfort. On the one hand, I think the Duchess is very brave to finally at the age of 51 to want to change her life for the better and to get a grip. And she seems to have done a remarkable job with her daughters, of showing them love and affection and boosting their confidence, particularly since the press has been remarkably on kind at times about their fashion choices and their weight. On the other hand, I find it hard to listen to her try to blame the whole of last year's fiasco (the scandal of her selling access for cash) solely on The News of the World.   She keeps repeating this story that she was only trying to get money for a friend, when it is clear from the video that she's selling access to Prince Andrew for cash.  The undercover reporter did not make her say those things.

I also found it hard to stomach that she has been so fiscally irresponsible over the years. She had a job for several years before she married into the royal family, so presumably she paid rent, bought food, etc.  At some point, someone should have sat her down (particuarly after she got into debt the first time) and taught her how to budget, invest her money etc. She was awfully cagey with Suze Orman about her divorce settlement from Prince Andrew.  We all know pretty much what Princess Diana received after her divoce, it makes me wonder how the royal family had her over a barrel on that one.

The other thing I found interesting was that she mentioned how little she saw Prince Andrew while they were dating.  Apparently she saw him less than Princess Diana did when Prince Charles was courting her, which again makes me wonder, why would you marry a man that you knew so little about? Was she just swept up in the romance of it, and never really stopped to think what she was getting into. Not so much the bit about marrying into the royal family, but marrying a naval officer. If she saw him so little during their courtship, did it not occur to her that this would continue after they were married?

Her enthusiasm and boisterousness seems to have made her jump in with both feet without ever thinking about the consequences of her actions. What I was struck by was her realization that she has been extraordinarily lucky in her life.  She and Andrew have managed to co-parent successfully after their divorce, there seems to have been no bitterness on either side. He jumped in to offer her a place to live after last year's scandal, and they continued to live together for several years after their divorce.  Oprah came to her rescue and offered her the chance to gain the tools to change her life (of course it wasn't totally altruistic). After her divorce, she managed to capitalize on a whole range of jobs to pull herself out of debt, and she also set up a charitable venture as well. So it's frustrating and heartbreaking that in the midst of all this, she has such self-loathing for herself.

Sarah comes across as likeable, vulnerable, and incredibly clueless. She claims that after she got divorced, she didn't know how to do anything.  I find that hard to believe, considering that for 8 years, she supported herself before she got married (well she had a job anyway) and she was only married to Prince Andrew for 6 years before they seperated in 1992 (they divorced in 1996). I've never met a woman of her age who was more child-like in her need to please people and to be taken care off, instead of standing on her own two feet.

I'm looking forward to seeing if this journey actually creates positive changes in her life, and if they continue after the cameras stop rolling. Will we need to have a Season 2?

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