TELEVISION / The fat lady sings

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The Independent Culture
'I WAS slim and striking', said Galina Brezhnev, 'and this provoked envy.' If you had been feeling sorry for the subject of Roger Finnigan's intriguing First Tuesday film, 'Brezhnev's Daughter' (ITV), this was the moment it began to evaporate. What you were looking at, you realised, as well as a sad, self-pitying drunk, was an image of the old Soviet state itself - sincerely mendacious, resolutely paranoid, a victim of the lies it told itself. The evidence of the old snapshots revealed that Galina had actually only been slim for about three minutes in 1956; then the privileges of power began to lag the body, laying a swag of fat beneath the chin, coarsening the face into ever closer identity with her father.

Buoyed up by the expedient fascination of the Soviet press, Galina obviously never noticed - she was pictured at one point posing coquettishly in chiffon on a Black Sea balcony, an image intended to evoke Monroe which actually called to mind the dancing hippos from Fantasia. She still walks through the streets with the hauteur of a leading lady, but the blue eye make-up sits on that slabby face like a pair of new curtains in a bomb-site. If they ever make the movie Les Dawson's agent will be laughing.

Though she was his favourite, Galina was always a stone in Brezhnev's shoe, marrying unsuitably and leading a life of unenviable dissipation (most Russian champagne tastes like it's been made in a slipper). She was, for a time, the Soviet equivalent of Princess Di, the best the Communist state could offer in the way of glamour. This was a sort of condemnation in itself; in what sort of society, you thought, would a figure as lustreless as this become a darling of Pravda?

Roy Medvedev, the dissident historian, went a little further. Galina, he suggested, provided the means for Andropov to topple Brezhnev because of her connections with a dodgy diamond- dealer. Breeding will out - 'You fascists . . . ' spat Galina, responding to a question about her own involvement in this scandal with the all-purpose Communist insult. She was almost as angry as when the film-crew pitched up without a bottle of champagne and she threatened to slug the director.

The fact that her whole life is a performance made you a little less uncomfortable about the unkindnesses of Finnigan's film, which exploited her sense of melodrama with set-ups (a shot of her reclining in a bubble bath, for example, or an elaborate meal served in a derelict building) that were cruel rather than objective, a taunt about disappointed fantasies that seemed an unnecessary twist of the knife. Belching and swearing, Galina didn't need any help to undermine what shreds of dignity remained. 'What do you want from me?' she slurred at one point. Just what they got, I suspect, a breathing metaphor for the disastrous condition of Russia itself, hopelessly corrupted by years of misrule and taking refuge in drink and dreams.

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