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Movie Reviews

Lady Boss ★★★★



Director: Laura Fairrie

Released: Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Stepping out of the shadows of her older sister Joan, Lady Boss provides a heartfelt insight into Jackie Collins’ life melding fact and fiction as she developed as a writer and emerged as an advocate for female empowerment. The film charts the highs and lows encountered within Jackie’s life as it depicts her career in writing and in love. Lady Boss is a fascinating, touching portrait of Jackie Collins’ life and her iconic status. Jackie Collins, as a writer, was subjected to both admiration and criticism by readers as she was renowned for her racy novels. A divisive figure perhaps, but Jackie Collins was certainly memorable.

After being introduced to the works of Jackie Collins through her novel, Chances, and the subsequent mini-series Lucky Chances, this trip down memory lane was undoubtedly riveting. Previously unreleased items such as Jackie’s diaries unlocked key moments of her life and create that personal nexus for the audience revealing the woman behind the persona. Indeed, through personal accounts from her three daughters, Joan and friends, the documentary unveils that the trademark big hair, shoulder pads, leopard print, and other associated items comprising Jackie’s iconic look were carefully constructed and effectively worked as a suit of armour. This idea of Jackie needing protection was corroborated by Jackie’s daughter, Tracy Lerman, describing the two distinctive sides to the powerhouse that was Jackie Collins. The documentary grippingly examines this juxtaposition between her two worlds, as a mother and iconic writer, with a captivatingly stylish flourish.

Lady Boss truly excels by displaying some of the extracts of Jackie’s personal diaries on screen in her handwriting in a series of quick edits. This literary device creates that emotional investment that is sometimes lacking in biographical documentaries. However, there is the sensation that Jackie’s voice is speaking beyond the grave, which adds to the layers of poignancy reverberating, as an understanding is developed of the private woman that she was and the global writing superstar that she became.

Jackie’s mission appeared to be a desire to level the playing field for women by creating confident characters in their careers and within their sexual relationships. Despite sales of 500 million books worldwide, Jackie’s stance on sexual liberation for women was perhaps too progressive for the 80s and 90s.  The film includes interviews where her novels were heavily criticised for projecting demeaning impressions of women. Jackie’s inner circle, throughout the film, discuss the impact of such negativity on Jackie as her ethos was that ‘women can do anything’, but she was ultimately not impenetrable.

Lady Boss presents Jackie’s glamorous Hollywood life, as Jackie initially installed herself within the actors set at a young age and the behind-the-scenes relationship trauma that Jackie experienced. Jackie effectively wrote about what she knew with her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men, depicting that Hollywood lifestyle from the women’s perspective. The utterance of the final line of such novel, ‘justice for all women’, provides that acknowledgement of Jackie’s quest for female empowerment despite a seemingly blunt approach.

A dramatic soundtrack further accentuates Jackie’s emotional upheaval along this journey to improve women’s status. Unseen footage and the voiceovers expose a cycle of toxic relationships within Jackie’s life. Director Laura Fairrie’s credit, the film’s seamless transitions ensure that the emotions are ratcheted up during such times as female empowerment seemed beyond Jackie’s grasp. Her personal life seemed to imitate art. Jackie’s life effectively mirrored that of ‘Lucky Santangelo’, the emboldened organised crime lady boss of the Lucky series, which were highly successful at the time. Ironically, the majority of the men in Jackie’s life seemed to be threatened by her writing success and embodied the macho characters portrayed in her novels.

Cleverly, Lady Boss interweaves footage from the Lucky Chances mini-series to illustrate elements of Jackie’s life, which enhances the parallels that could be drawn. The documentary’s storytelling approach perfectly balances directorial detachment with an empathetic lens. Fairrie’s trust in her subjects pervades Lady Boss, thereby creating that emotional journey for the audience.

Lady Boss has many heartfelt moments from depicting Jackie’s early writing passion until the poignancy of her untimely death. It is a compelling portrait that underlines the strength, tenacity and willpower of the icon that was Jackie Collins in the face of adversity. It captivatingly demonstrates Jackie’s commitment until the very end as that author championing a different brand of female empowerment but ultimately leaves the impression that the world was perhaps not ready for her during her lifetime.

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