fri 23/10/2020

Prue Leith: Journey with My Daughter, Channel 4 review - an emotional journey into the past | reviews, news & interviews

Prue Leith: Journey with My Daughter, Channel 4 review - an emotional journey into the past

Prue Leith: Journey with My Daughter, Channel 4 review - an emotional journey into the past

'Bake Off' judge travels to Cambodia on a quest for historic roots

Who do you think you are? Prue Leith with daughter Li-Da

Days before the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, orphaned baby Li-Da was flown out of the country, and was eventually adopted by Prue Leith and her husband Rayne. Leith’s culinary star was rising rapidly, and her husband was a successful writer and businessman. Their Cotswolds home became a fairytale setting in which their adopted daughter could make a fresh start.

Days before the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, orphaned baby Li-Da was flown out of the country, and was eventually adopted by Prue Leith and her husband Rayne. Leith’s culinary star was rising rapidly, and her husband was a successful writer and businessman. Their Cotswolds home became a fairytale setting in which their adopted daughter could make a fresh start.

In this fascinating film (for Channel 4) about her trip back to Cambodia with her daughter, Leith admitted that she never felt much curiosity about Li-Da’s family and her Cambodian background, and never worried about the way the child had been torn away from her cultural roots (though she recalled how a passer-by once berated her for doing just that). She also confessed to feeling disgust for a country which had produced the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

However, it’s a different story for Li-Da, for whom questions about her Cambodian origins have long been nagging at her. A producer and director herself, she previously made a film about a return trip to Cambodia called Belonging (2003). Now, having also become an adoptive mother, Li-Da travelled with Leith in a further attempt to find out what happened to her family during the hideous years of the Pol Pot regime.

She’d always believed that her mother had been killed in a rocket attack while her father had been a soldier fighting the against the Khmer Rouge, but their new researches suggested this may not have been true. A man called Chang told a story of how a baby girl had been given to an American to be flown out of the country, and directed them to the child’s birth mother, a woman named Soth. Was that baby really Li-Da? We saw the duo waiting on tenterhooks for the results of a DNA test.

But perhaps the most revealing aspect of this documentary was its depiction of Li-Da’s relationship with Leith. As a Bake Off judge, Leith can seem brittle and brusque, a bit like Joyce Grenfell impersonating Margaret Thatcher. Here, though, we could feel the unbreakable emotional bond between the two women, with Leith even shedding a few tears (“this is ridiculous! I am not a woman who cries!”). Whatever happens, they’ll always have each other to lean on.

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