Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story – An entertaining romp that goes beyond the shoulderpads

Admiring documentary works best when it finds parallels between writer and characters

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story
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Director: Laura Fairrie
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Hazel Collins, Joan Collins, Jennifer Daugherty, Barbara Davis
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

They don't quite bellow: "She's a hot-blooded beauty in love with power", but even the production notes for this admiring documentary about Jackie Collins have a touch of Collins about them. "In 1968, Jackie Collins published her first novel The World Is Full of Married Men to remarkable success and immediate scandal," reads the opening gambit.

Collins would “go on to build an empire”, an empire predicated upon “female agency” and peopled by “women who were unapologetic about their needs and their sexual desire”, the notes continue.

At its best, Laura Fairrie's entertaining film finds parallels between its subject and her many, big-haired heroines, especially Lucky Santangelo, the leading lady of such bestsellers as Dangerous Kiss and Poor Little Bitch Girl.

It helps that Collins, the daughter of showbiz agent Joe and sister of actor Joan, is always on the margins of an absurdly glamorous world: Warren Beatty, Joan’s then fiance, was a guest at Jackie’s first wedding.


Jackie’s husbands and lovers could easily pass for the suitable – or, more frequently, unsuitable – gentlemen who populate her books.

Her Prince Charming was Oscar Lerman, an American nightclub impresario and Collins's devoted husband for years until his death, in 1992, from prostate cancer.

Her previous, first husband had been an abusive drug addict who repeatedly threatened to take his own life if she left him. Her last partner was Frank Calcagnini, a businessman. When Frank was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, Jackie's best friend – spoiler alert: every woman she knew describes her thusly – asked if there were any guns in the house, lest Frank take Jackie with him.

Fairrie’s biggest coup is her access to Jackie’s diaries, which are written in the same punchy style that propelled each of her 32 novels onto the New York Times bestseller list. Having followed her older sister to Hollywood, the teenaged Jackie notes that Marilyn Monroe’s walk “could make a revolving door look static”.

Behind the shoulderpads and the surgery, however, Collins was a hardworking mother whose children were only vaguely aware of the 500 million books she sold before her death from breast cancer in 2015.

Two screen adaptations of Lucky's adventures – one starring Nicollette Sheridan and Sandra Bullock – make the final cut. It's a tease. One wishes that Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story had rapaciously embraced the Jackie aesthetic with soapy dramatisations (preferably starring Nicollette Sheridan in an enormous wig).

Jackie emerges as a good sport, one who keeps her chin up and her dignity intact when she finds herself on the receiving end of withering criticisms from Barbara Cartland (!) and members of the Kilroy (!!) audience.

The great imponderable remains Jackie and Joan. The latter diplomatically admits that their relationship cooled during the 1980s and 1990s. But there's nothing like the Alexis-Krystle Dynasty-cliffhanger catfight that most viewers will have hoped for. Whither the breathless suspense? Happily, Joan does throw some shade at Oliver Tobias, her co-star in The Stud.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic