"The Female Line," a television documentary produced by one Peabody woman about three other women in the blue-blooded clan, is a simple-minded movie about three women it tries hard to tell us are not simple-minded.
The film, which airs tomorrow night on Channel 26, reportedly has been the source of some friction between Pamela Peabody, the producer, and her subjects, in-laws Mary Peabody, 89, her daughter Marietta Tree, 63, and her daughter Frances Fitzgerald, 39. It would be a shame if a film so inconsequential caused any permanent rift in the family.
Marietta Tree comes off the worst. A forner ambassador to the U.N. and a member of numerous boards of directors, she is no doubt a charming and accomplished woman. But in the film she comes off as a big phony; her comments appear to be recitations spoken for an audience of ignorant plebians, and her life a privileged cocoon so far removed from reality that the viewer has a hard time understanding why we should pay any attention to her view on anything.
It isn't polite to make fun of someone's accent, but Tree's self-conscious upper-class lockjaw becomes a parody of itself and dominates the impression of her that is created in this movie.
Frances Fitzgerald, Pultizer prize-winning author of "Fire in the Lake" and evidently an articulate and independent woman, comes off quite well, despite the fact that she wears her hair in an unattractive and stringy hank. And grandmother Mary, whose claim to fame is that she was sent to jail at the age of 64 for trying to intergrate a restaurant in Florida seems to be a dear, thoughtful person of great vitality.
The fundemental flaw of the film is the structure. Each woman is interviewed separately and their comments spliced together, after the narrator has said that the subjects they will be talking about are things the three women never discuss with each other.
The topics for discussion -- abortion, birth control, the Middle East, feminism, etc. -- reveal a kind of Time magazine mentality, a scattershot attack on "current" issues that permit only similarly superficial answers in response.
Thus, the three women appear to be well-informed rather than wise, regular viewers of the evening news rather than people who have experienced life.
The most tacky of these questions come toward the end when the narrator asks if it is possible that these women "could believe in God or a hereafter." aReally. Tree responds by saying that she'd like to be remembered for what she's done here on earth, but would like to have a rose named after her, or "a delicious dish, like peach Melba or spaghetti Caruso." nActually, she notes, she HAS had a geranium named after her . . .
The only fun of this movie is its voyeuritic quality, the glimpse it gives of how rich people live (although Fitzgerald has been quoted as saying that the limousine in which her mother is filmed, was merely rented). They live very nicely, by the way, very nicely indeed.