You may know Jackie Collins as the original ‘chic lit’ author.
Often controversial, particularly for her time, but very readable with the wild, romantic stories she wrote, Collins became a household name. The popularity of her books would see her build an incredible fortune and fame, despite those books often taunted as being too sexual, too raunchy, too much.
Collins died in 2015 at the age of 77, having written 32 consecutive NY Times Bestsellers and selling 500 million books in more than 40 countries.
Some of these books were turned into movies — Sandra Bullock starred in Lucky Chances, a TV miniseries version of Collins’ novels Lucky and Chances. The Stud was turned into a movie starring Collins’ older sister, Joan. (Yes, that Joan Collins)
Yet all her life, Collins was ostracised by both worlds she cradled — the Hollywood entourage which she was immersed in, partly due to her sister’s sensational fame, and the “serious” literary world she wanted to join.
A complex woman with so much documented history requires a talented storyteller to re-narrate her life.
Enter Laura Fairrie, a British director whose past work includes political studies, such as Spiral, a 2017 documentary charting the human cost of rising antisemitism in Europe, and Battle for Barking, a 2010 documentary about far-right factions in Britain.
Fairrie said she wanted to make documentaries because of the: “…intoxicating combination of visual creativity, the search for truth, and sharing the emotional experience of what it is to be human through storytelling.”
When Fairrie was a young girl at school, she noticed her friends were handing around Collins’ 1977 book, Lovers and Gamblers as well as her 1983 bestseller Hollywood Wives. For many young women during that era, the books served as their ‘sex education.’
In preparation for her documentary on Collins streaming on Foxtel now, Fairrie returned to all of Collins’ back catalogue, starting with her debut, The World is Full of Married Men published in 1968.
“The focus for me was how could I best tell Jackie’s untold story,” Fairrie tells Women’s Agenda. “The one she hadn’t managed to tell in her own lifetime.
“I was always looking for the truth beneath the glitz and the moments where she dropped her guard and revealed her inner self.”
“It was hard to let some things go though … we couldn’t put everything into the film, for example the fax communication that went on between her and Roger Moore – they were great friends and would correspond with hilarious and very outrageous letters sent to each other by fax.”
Fairrie had access to all of Collins’ journals and video footage from decades past, as well as time spent interviewing key figures in Collins’ life, such as her daughter Tiffany Lerman.
“It was an incredible treasure trove of material and it was quite overwhelming at the start,” Fairrie admits, though the final product is a marvel.
The documentary traverses Collins’ life, growing up in London in the shadow of her big sister, the big Hollywood star. It examines her initial attempts and minor successes in trying to follow her sister into acting stardom, through to her relationships with men (she reportedly had a brief affair with Marlon Brando when she was still a teenager) to becoming a mother.
“The biggest challenge was finding the authentic Jackie,” Fairrie says.
“She was so well versed at being the untouchable woman dressed in leopard print and shoulder pads.
“In order to make a meaningful and moving film I knew I had to find the vulnerable woman beneath the powerful surface image — at the beginning it wasn’t immediately obvious how I would achieve this.”
Taking almost through years to make, the documentary was awarded the Arts Award at this year’s Royal Television Society Program Awards.
Fairrie’s next project involves a feature documentary about a woman on trial, whom she can’t yet name.
“[It’s] really exciting. I can’t say more … but watch this space!”
You can stream Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins’ Story today, on Foxtel.