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The Jackie Collins story: Fascinating documentary about the life of the Queen of bonkbusters 


Jackie Collins

Jackie Collins

Jackie Collins

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story Now Available ifi@home Four Stars

Imagine calling someone “The Queen of Trash.” It seems unthinkable now, hopefully, but this ignominious title was one frequently thrown at author Jackie Collins. Behind her back, and to her face, it was apparently entirely acceptable to dismiss the woman, and her work, in this manner.

But Jackie Collins sold over 500 million copies of her novels. She provided entertainment, titillation and sex education for several generations and was also a feminist icon of sorts. The very fact it was so easy to dismiss her, her work and by extension her largely female fans, was proof of the sexist world in which she reigned.

She took on that world by creating strong female protagonists. Her first novel, 1968’s The World is Full of Married Men, ended with the line, “Justice for all females.” Collins started as she meant to continue. Her heroines were brave and fearless, invariably triumphing over every adversity. Nobody messed with Lucky Santangelo.

Fashions in feminism change as in everything, but, in the 1970s and 1980s it was groundbreaking to have female characters who succeeded in business. However, what really stuck in sexist craws was that these women enjoyed sex and had lots of it. About once every 40 pages in fact.

Jackie Collins took the criticism on the chin. She was perhaps the first celebrity author. One might struggle to put a face to Harold Robbins, but who didn’t know what Joan Collins’s glamorous, big-haired, shiny-lipped sister looked like? A sharp, funny interviewee, she was a regular on TV where she would defend herself politely, with humour and dignity, even when pink-clad romance author Barbara Cartland called her “evil” on Wogan. As Collins said, “I’m not claiming to be a literary genius, I’m claiming to be a terrific storyteller.”


Jackie and Joan Collins

Jackie and Joan Collins

Jackie and Joan Collins

Jackie Collins’s own life story is rather fascinating. And, for all my familiarity with her persona, I knew very little about her and so greatly enjoyed director Laura Fairrie’s documentary, Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story.

The film was made with the family’s full approval. This means that not only are her siblings, three daughters and many “best friends” interviewed for the film, but they have also granted access to Jackie’s extensive diaries and film and photo archive.

Like one of Jackie’s novels, the film tells a good story without too much analysis or counterpoint. It opens with her sister Joan, who I feel it should be pointed out is, unbelievably, 88. Joan talks about how, after Jackie’s death, everywhere she went she saw a tiny fruit fly which she believed to be her sister’s spirit.

Fairrie goes back to the beginning with her film. Jackie was the middle of three children born in London in the 1930s. Their mother was a housewife and their father a theatrical agent who rather evidently favoured his eldest daughter, Joan, who had early and impressive success in films.

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When Jackie turned 16, in 1953, she went to stay with Joan in Hollywood. Her diary entries are a remarkable record of a golden age and include the gem that she spent a while with Marlon Brando at a party, “he is only my height, and kind of fat.” She was always writing and these observations of glamorous people in a glamorous world would become the basis for many of her novels.

Attempts to break into acting and modelling failed and Jackie’s first marriage ended badly. Her second, to Oscar Lerman, was a long and happy one and it was Lerman who encouraged her to write. The documentary tells the whole story, with some especially interesting input from her daughters about how Jackie wrote her way through trauma and grief. They also describe the famous shoulder pads and jewels, the helmet of hair, as a kind of armour.

Joan and Jackie’s careers ebbed and flowed. Joan’s film career had stalled when Jackie’s writing career took off. In the 1980s however they were both hugely successful, Joan on TV series Dynasty and Jackie with her bonkbusters. Their rumoured rivalry is addressed in the film. Joan explains that yes, there was a cooling of relations between the sisters, but that was mostly because Jackie hated two of Joan’s husbands, and one of her boyfriends.

Jackie Collins was a thorough archivist and documentarian in her own right and all of this material really enriches the film. You don’t have to have had a battered secret copy of Hollywood Wives to appreciate or enjoy this story. However, if you’re of a certain age, it is iconic stuff

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It’s a tween/YA suitable romcom about Americans in a version of Ireland that will delight tourist boards.

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One of the interesting things Marcello does is the way he plays with time. The movie is shot on 16mm film which gives it a texture, but also the palette, costumes, music and use of archive footage means we are never entirely sure when it is set. This gives more universality to the themes like class and individualism vs. socialism. However Eden is a difficult character to be around for too long so, for me, it ran out of steam.

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The film opens with the attack on Pearl Harbour and how warnings from intelligence officer Layton (Patrick Wilson) were ignored. Fleet Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) is put in charge of American revenge and he listens when Layton warns of an imminent attack on the Midway Aatoll. Meanwhile we meet the characters, historically accurate but poorly fleshed out, who will play pivotal roles in the battle. Ed Skrein, Dennis Quaid and Nick Jonas are amongst the many faces who appear.

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