The Man Who Bought Mustique

on May 09, 2001 by Michael Tunison
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   Part idiosyncratic character portrait, part offbeat travel video, director Joseph Bullman's unique documentary "The Man Who Bought Mustique" benefits from a truly intriguing subject in Colin Tennant, an eccentric British aristocrat who built, then lost, a vacation paradise for the rich and famous on the titular Caribbean island.

   An intimate of Princess Margaret who now bears the title Lord Glenconner, Tennant earned his place in pop culture history when his tiny West Indies isle of Mustique became a favored hideaway for the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Raised on his family's ancestral estate in Scotland, Tennant purchased Mustique in 1956 and poured his fortune into its development, only to lose control of his dream when he ran out of money and was ousted by the tourist colony's board of directors in the late '70s. The filmmakers catch up with an embittered but no less lively Tennant two decades later, as he makes a rare trip to his beloved Mustique from his home in exile on the nearby island of St. Lucia.

   The decision to retain bits of footage that would have been cut out of a more traditional documentary--the crew setting up shots, the imperious Tennant ordering director Bullman and the others about--gives the film a rough-edged, subversive quality from the beginning. It's a testament to Tennant's charisma that even as he indulges in a series of increasingly ugly tantrums leading up to a climactic "Royal Lunch" with Princess Margaret, he's still endlessly watchable. "The Man Who Bought Mustique" doesn't answer all of the questions it raises about this complicated man (weirdly, the filmmakers steer clear of the board of directors coup d'état that so profoundly changed the direction of his life), but Tennant's oversized personality guarantees that this tropical excursion will never be less than entertaining.    Starring Colin Tennant, Nicholas Courtney, Anne Tennant and Princess Margaret. Directed by Joseph Bullman. Produced by Vikram Jayanti. A First Run release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 78 min.

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