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Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story


‘…a trashy, compulsive watch much in the glitz and glam tradition of the books…’

Taking a title from one of Jackie Collins’ books, Lady Boss is a documentary about the British author and television personality. It’s easy to scoff at the writing itself, and many have over the years, but Laura Fairrie’s film is at least a trashy, compulsive watch much in the glitz and glam tradition of the books.

A collaboration between BBC Arts and CNN Films, Lady Boss is a straightforward melange of vintage clips and talking heads, notably sister Joan Collins. The storyline follows Jackie as she emerges from the shadow of her film-star sister, and overcomes personal issues (drug-addict husbands, industry chauvinism) to triumph as an inspiration to other women. Unfortunately, this leads to a schism with Joan, principally when Joan starts writing novels of her own, and a number of agents, friends and acquaintances come forth to attest to Jackie’s ground-breaking spirit and mourn her untimely death from breast cancer.

One clip sees Clive James dismissing Jackie Collins’ writing during an interview with Bernard Levin; the intention is to show how Collins was unfairly dismissed by priggish men, but James was something of a trash-humper in terms of his own tastes, in thrall to the Dallas and Dynasty disposable products of the day. Side-effects of watching Lady Boss include making viewers feel prematurely aged when examining historical artefacts in the clip-reel; we see Gloria Hunniford asking tough questions, an appearance on the One Show goes badly, and Collins gets her wheels taken off when her claims to being a feminist are dismantled by an audience of self-declared feminists during a Robert Kilroy audience. What is missing from Lady Boss is any similarly caustic dissection of the novels involved; like many films about writers, Lady Boss will discuss anything but text, and her Harold Robbins-aping prose is given a free pass, somehow emancipating womanhood with every act of fellatio. ‘My women get what they want, in the end,’ Collins says defiantly.

The inadvertent comedy of Lady Boss is considerable, but the ending is feel-bad; Collins had a self-confidence that seems to have led to her keeping a treatable medical condition a secret, and resulting in a tragically early demise. It’s notable that Hollywood ‘friends’ like Michael Caine are featured in archive footage only; it feels like most of the showbiz town Collins love had turned her back on her by the time she needed them. Lady Boss has a terrific subject for a documentary, particularly given the current desire to uncover Hollywood excess, but considerable efforts to fashion Collins as a feminist icon here somehow lack the persuasive evidence required.

Lady Boss screens in select UK cinemas from this weekend, on CNN last month and on BBC 2 later this year. Thanks to Modern Films for access.


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  1. Glad to hear it’s as trashy as the books and that someone is making a serious documentary about trashy books rather than all the concentrating or art. She was a big brand name and helped invent the concept.

    • It doesn’t make a case for her writing, and one assumes there is no case to make…as a brander, she was brilliant, but is being a successful woman the same as being a feminist? I’ll leave it to others to come up with answers…

      • I wonder what we would make of a docu of Alistair Maclean who was similarly a big brand but, although the earlier books were well-written, hardly in the Graham Greene/Eric Ambler class. I think fans don’t care, they just want insights into the author.

  2. This does sound like a good watch. I never read her books but watched a few of her books when made into movies. Thanks for the review, I hope it gets sold to streaming we get good British telly often years later

    • It’s quite compulsive, and there’s lots of vintage clips which make it like a history of tv interviews. If Bbc 2 is not accessible where you are, I suspect it’ll turn up on streaming elsewhere…good luck!

        • They are quite formidable, and Joan clearly has plenty of stories to tell. They are two interesting women, my carp was just that the feminist label used here doesn’t easily apply to the career shown. Doesn’t make this less interesting to watch.

  3. Very helpful of you to explain who is and isn’t an ‘actual feminist.’ I was so confused before! Thanks babe!

    • Yup, Lucy, I’ll take your point, you’re correct and I’m not. I’ll change the wording to ‘self-declared’ feminists, I get that ‘actual’ suggests that I have an opinion as to who is a feminist and who isn’t in the struggle shown here. The programme was clearly set up with studio researchers inviting women who would declare themselves on-screen as feminsists and declare that Collins was not, but describing that situation that does not reflect my opinion. Careless use of language and apologies.

  4. I had no idea she had died of breast cancer. I also hadn’t made the connection to Joan Collins either.

    I do remember that in our little library in Quarryville, she had two whole shelves dedicated to her. Considering space was limited, that was saying just how popular her books were. I never read them, but when one has the literary taste to appreciate fine things like Forgotten Realms books, you can see why I wouldn’t be tempted.

    I do admit to not understanding this thirst for fame. Going on talk shows, etc, just goes against my very nature and it’s hard to truly realize that other people aren’t that way as well.

    • She was a successful self-publicist, and certainly had an enviable record for publishing popular books. But like you, it’s not the kind of fame I might hope for. It felt like Collins was keen to be larger than her books, and the books themselves suffered. I think there would be a case to be made for her work, but it’s not done here to any persuasive extent.

      I guess you’re not going on Orprah then?

      • She was self-published? Now THAT is the most interesting thing I’ve seen here. Color me impressed. I know how hard self-pubbers have to work, having been involved in a few kickstarters. The revelations keep on coming this morning!

        no, no Oprah for me. Even the few pix I have put up of my self on my blog has been really pushing the line. I don’t have facebook and the only places that I am online as me are job related and have zero ties to the Bookstooge personna.

        I used to feel bad for movie stars, what with paparazzi getting in their face and their privacy being zero, then I realized that is what they want. Otherwise they would do something else.

        • No, a self-publicist is someone who is good at promoting their brand. She had an agent and her books were bestsellers for legit publishers.

          What is your take on stars who went into the business as kids? Do they deserve all they get?

          • Ahhh, not an indie then. I had not realized that “self-publicist” was a different thing. My respect just tanked, hahahahaa 😉

            That is a really good question. It’s where ideals and reality really clash too. I don’t think that child stars deserve it. I also don’t think children should be in movies, period. I realize that would limit things, but I feel the effects of acting are too deleterious to a child’s overall health for it to be good. I realize child labor laws can kinda maybe sorta but not really help. I look at the Olsen twins as poster girls for that.
            But once they hit 16, then it is on them to make the choice of continuing or not. 16 is kind of arbitrary, but it is the age most States here in the US allow kids to start getting drivers licenses.

            Oh, that was just a great question!

            • Good answer, A child cannot understand what they’re getting into, and we end up with adults who feel they’ve been railroaded. there has to be a get-out at 16…..

              Thanks, would you be prepared to go on the Mad One Nation Mad Facist Network and discuss it with me in an exclusive interview? We’ve got a spot lined up for you to promote your writing on Dystopian Autocratic Hollywood Squares as well…..

              • I am not willing to go on the Mad One Nation Mad Facist Network, but I am willing to go on the Mad One Nation Facizt Network. The “z” means they’re cool and hip, like me 😉
                Will you be asking the questions or will it be Demi Moore?

                As for DAHS, I’d only consider it if Eddie Murphy did the interview. He would understand the pain of my people….

                • Demi, myself, Anderson Cooper and Fozzie Bear will ask the questions. Eddie Murphy will be on standby in case the pressure gets to you. Happy with these arrangements?

                  • Absolutely. Fozzi really impressed me with his journalistic skills from the Great Muppet Caper. If anyone is going to get to the bottom of things and tell the world the truth, it’ll be him. Help keep that lying hellhound Anderson in check too. Hopefully Demi just shoots him with her gold plated 357 magnums.

                    Even a big cardboard picture cutout of Murphy will do. Just something I can lean back on, metaphorically speaking of course.

                    • This sounds like a literal ‘no brained’ which is to say that it should appeal to anyone with no brains.

                      Have your people talk to my people and I’ll loop Demi in…

                    • And most people who watch lots of movies definitely fit into that category 😉

                      Perfect. But I have to find some people to be my people first. So it might be teensy tiny bit of time before we can work out the details.

                    • When you find your people, get them to find my people, if I still have people left once you have yours. Got it?

                    • Got it. I feel like we’re playing Who’s on First. But with whole groups of people. This could get confusing. What happens if our people forget which people they are?
                      I’m wondering if we need to escalate this to a UN level. Is Boutros Boutros Ghali still alive?

                    • He’s one of my people, but he could be yours if the money is right. How about I give you a spare Boutros and we split the difference? I don’t need to, he just came with a spare. I’ve got an Archbishop Banana too, unused, mint condition. Still boxed.

                    • Ohhh, very tempting. I’ve always wanted my own BBG. Gonna have to pass on the Archbishop, I speculated hard and feel like it’s not going to pay off now. I’ve got a storage shed of them that I can’t unload for life or limb…..

                    • I hear you, he’s not for everyone, but would suit a beginner with a good sense of humour. I’ll see if I can split my BBG in two without breaking his grappling mechanism….

                    • She did, Hollywood Butros Banana Wives (1978), massive book back in the day, rare as hen’s teeth now.

                    • Even better. Might be able to use it to bribe Moore to become one of my people. You can’t have too many people these days.

                    • Right now, I’m still looking. I’m thinking I want a whole tribe. But once I get them, I’ll talk to my People to see if they know any people who are looking to become People. I’ll be sure to give you a glowing recommendation.

                    • I thought so too. Then they all took off to the YMCA and I haven’t had a minute of work from then or even a resignation letter!

                    • Hmmm…that’s a shame, but there’s no need to feel down.

                    • I’d make a joke about bogs right now, but obviously on this blog of high taste and class I just can’t. So I won’t. Not even to say that it made me feel down in the “dumps”.

                    • You’re such a charmer when you want to, swaggering in here on the 4th of July with your Wild West bonhomie….

  5. Clive James certainly loved both high and low culture, but he could be very scathing of bad writing, particularly in his written reviews. He spent a lifetime putting a lot of effort into making his prose seem effortless, and was very critical with others’ clumsy writing. I have never read Jackie Collins, and I doubt I’d ever want to, but her pageturners were certainly a phenomenon in their time, you couldn’t escape their glossy covers in every WH Smiths and Woolworths. It sounds like this doc is an exploration of her fame and cultural impact, rather than the writing itself.

    • Yea, would agree with all of that. The James clip seems dismissive, but then again, the context has been removed; I doubt that James and Levin touched on Collins for long. But yes, like Amis, James made a sport of pulling apart bad writing. This doc is odd in that it assembles lots of evidence of how bad her writing was, and very little in defence, then jumps to the conclusion that she was a feminist icon. Some may believe that to be so, but not on the evidence assembled here; her literary efforts, whatever their merits, are generally sidelined in favour of a soapy biog.

    • It is sad, but I think she would feel annoyed that her writing isn’t given much analysis here. She was a strong woman, but the surface approach here trivialises someone who has already been widely trivialised in the past. It would have been interesting if even one of the interviewees could have made a case for or against for her writing, but it’s mainly just old movies, gossip and chat-shows.

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