THERE is something about Lady Boss: the Jackie Collins Story (BBC2, Friday, 9pm) that is hard to get a handle on for a while. Then it hits you: the overwhelming number of women there are in the documentary, from her family and friends to her assistants and publishers.
To paraphrase the title of the late writer’s first novel, the world is full of married, and unmarried, women who adored Jackie Collins. At the end of Laura Fairrie’s outstanding film chances are that you, too, will have joined the fan club.
Fairrie’s film had its premiere earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. The event is something of a hipster fest, not the sort of place, perhaps, you would expect to find a writer who was 1980s from her shoulder pads to her stilettos. Jackie was more Cannes than New York City.
Yet in many ways, Manhattan in the noughties is exactly where she belongs, ready and waiting to be reclaimed by a new generation for the feminist she was.
Born in London in 1937, Jackie lived her early life in the shadow of her older sister Joan. Big sis, one of the film’s main contributors, was happy for her little sis to tag along to glitzy parties. Jackie liked the buzz, but as the then 16-year-old told her diary in 1953, she experienced “an awful inferiority complex” when she was with Joan. “I feel all big and clumsy and dull.”
Jackie wanted a life and career just like Joan’s. The acting career was not to be, with a part opposite Roger Moore in the television show The Saint about as good as it got.
She got the life, however, marrying playboy Wallace Austin in 1960. Joan recalls being at the wedding “with Warren”. That will be Mr Beatty to you.
I would love to say it all ended happily ever after for Jackie, but where would be the drama in that? The Jackie Collins story was just getting started, and what a ripping yarn it turned out to be.
As one of her daughters tells Fairrie, Jackie was a very private person. In public she adopted the persona of a gutsy, glam, queen bee author who gave as good as she got when it came to men. Though there were parallels between her life and those of her love ‘em and leave ‘em characters, she was kinder to her heroines than men sometimes were to her. There was one honourable exception to that, her beloved second husband, Oscar Lerman, and their long and happy marriage is charted here.
Her books sold by the warehouse-load and her films made millions more. The critics, mostly male, hated her work, as we see in one particularly toe-curling discussion led by the late Clive James. There is another horrible encounter between a by then unfashionable Jackie and a younger generation of women who think her books demeaned them.
Fairrie’s film, slyly funny, nicely knowing and with lots of great archive, reclaims Jackie for the sisterhood, where she belongs. To be watched with glass of champagne in hand, natch.
Who Do You Think You Are (BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm) returns for its 18th – count ‘em series – with a new batch of celebrities ready to climb their family trees. This run includes Judi Dench, footballer and presenter Alex Scott, and former MP Ed Balls. We start, though, with the relatively less well known Josh Widdicombe, comedian and presenter of Channel 4’s Friday night staple The Last Leg.
Born in London and brought up in rural Devon, Widdicombe wonders if his story will be up to much. “My fear is I come from a really boring family.”
The moment he says that, however, you know it is game on. Boring families don’t make it past research and through to the filming stage of Who Do You Think You Are. What would be the point?
No spoilers lest it ruin the fun, but enough to say Widdicombe’s gob is regularly smacked throughout the hour-long episode.
Bradley Walsh was already well on his way to national treasure status with the shifts he puts in on The Chase. Prepare to see the deal sealed when he appears in The Larkins (STV, Sunday, 8pm), a remake of previous ratings juggernaut, The Darling Buds of May.
Walsh takes over from David Jason, who played Pop Larkin in the 1991 ITV drama, with Joanna Scanlan and Sabrina Bartlett replacing Pam Ferris and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Ma Larkin and Mariette, one of the couple’s six children.
It has been 30 years since the last television adaptation of HE Bates’s novels. Viewers were charmed, but will the happiest of families still have the same pull in a world where the number one show on Netflix is the Korean survive-or-die thriller Squid Game?
Simon “The Durrells” Nye is on script duty, so the odds and outlook are set fair.