Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story review – weirdly incurious but watchable documentary

Laura Fairrie’s family-sanctioned film praises the author’s personal courage, work ethic and feminism-lite but doesn’t delve very deep

Mega-selling author Jackie Collins enjoyed her big-haired and shoulder-padded heyday with raunchy books like Hollywood Wives, The Bitch and The Stud; now she is celebrated in this family-sanctioned fan-documentary praising her personal courage in the face of spousal abuse, her work ethic and her feminist-lite celebration of commercial success for sexually attractive women. It’s watchable, with some stinging rebukes for the male snobs – including, I’m sorry to say, Clive James, normally a great pop culture ally, shown here in a gruesome TV clip alongside Bernard Levin mocking Collins in her absence.

Collins grew up in the shadow of her more glamorous older sister Joan Collins, she had some cosmetic work done (which she was delighted with) and tried, like Joan, to crack Hollywood. When that didn’t work out, Collins went into fiction with her first novel, saucily entitled The World Is Full of Married Men, was thrilled with her advance of £400, and as the years went by, she had the complex satisfaction of seeing her status rise as her sister’s gradually fell. But Collins had to fight horrible and abusive first and third husbands – though her second was wonderfully supportive.

We get lots of photos and home video material from her family archive, showing Collins hanging out with the Michael Caines and the Roger Moores. But it is a weirdly incurious documentary in its way; there are loads of talking-head contributions from devoted friends and family, including of course from her sister and unacknowledged rival Joan, but nothing from other writers, and nothing comparing her to the other galacticos of her industry, like Jacqueline Susann or Harold Robbins.

The film also loyally takes at face value Collins’s claims to be a feminist, and Collins boldly used that word when many were, and are, scared to. But perhaps it would have been interesting to speak to feminists – other feminists, that is – to ask if they agree. There’s not much in the way of social context either. The title of this movie is taken from one of her books, and I was waiting for someone to mention that other great lady boss of the 1980s era. Well, perhaps director Laura Fairrie thought that would have been too obvious. In the end, Collins emerges as an opaque figure, as resistant to interpretation as her famously 2D fictional heroine Lucky Santangelo.

• Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story is in cinemas from 2 July.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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