Jane Mallory Birkin //, French: [dʒɛn malɔʁi biʁkin]; 14 December 1946 – 16 July 2023) was a British and French actress and singer. She attained international fame and notability for her decade-long musical and romantic partnership with Serge Gainsbourg. She also had a prolific career as an actress, mostly in French cinema.(
Jane Mallory Birkin
14 December 1946
|Died||16 July 2023 (aged 76)|
|Resting place||Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris|
|Education||Upper Chine School, Isle of Wight|
(m. 1965; div. 1969)
A native of London, Birkin began her career as an actress, appearing in minor roles in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966), and Kaleidoscope (1966). In 1968, she met Serge Gainsbourg while co-starring with him in Slogan, which marked the beginning of a years-long working and personal relationship. The duo released their debut album Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg (1969), and Birkin also appeared in the controversial film Je t'aime moi non plus (1976) under Gainsbourg's direction. Though she mostly worked in France where she had become a major star, Birkin occasionally appeared in English-language films such as the Agatha Christie adaptations Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982), as well as James Ivory's A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998).
After separating from Gainsbourg in 1980, Birkin continued to work as both an actress and a singer, appearing in various independent films and recording numerous solo albums. In 2016, she starred in the Academy Award-nominated short film La femme et le TGV, which she said would be her final film role.
Birkin lived mainly in France from the late 1960s onwards, and would acquire French citizenship. She was the mother of photographer Kate Barry, with her first husband John Barry; actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, with Serge Gainsbourg; and musician Lou Doillon, with Jacques Doillon. In addition to her acting and musical credits, she lent her name to the Hermès Birkin handbag.
Early life edit
Jane Mallory Birkin was born on 14 December 1946, in Marylebone, London. Her mother, Judy Campbell, was an English actress, best known for her work on stage. Her father, David Birkin, was a Royal Navy lieutenant commander and World War II spy. Her brother is screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin. Birkin was raised in Chelsea, and described herself as a "shy English girl". She said that she was bullied for her looks; "I suffered a lot because of my physique, especially at boarding school. The others said I was half boy, half girl. I had no breasts, not even a developing bosom. It was horrible." She said she wanted to be as pretty as Jean Shrimpton, calling herself a "bad version" of her.
Birkin attended Miss Ironside's School in Kensington. She was also educated at Upper Chine School, Isle of Wight. In 2021, she said she started taking sleeping pills at 16 and never stopped. At the age of 17, she met composer John Barry, whom she married in 1965, and had her first daughter, Kate, in 1967. After Barry left for the United States, the couple divorced in 1968 and Birkin returned to live with her family in London. She began auditioning for film and television roles in England and in Los Angeles.
Early acting credits edit
Birkin emerged in the Swinging London scene of the 1960s, appearing in an uncredited part in The Knack ...and How to Get It (1965). She had a small role in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966) as a blonde model. At the time, the movie gained notoriety because of Birkin's nude scene, which she later said she did because John Barry had told her she would not have the courage to show up naked on set. Birkin also said that on the day of her audition, she had no idea who Antonioni was. She had a more substantial role in the counterculture era film Kaleidoscope (1966) and appeared as a fantasy-like model in the psychedelic film Wonderwall (1968).
In 1968, she auditioned for the lead female role in the French film Slogan (1969). Though she did not speak French she won the role, co-starring alongside Serge Gainsbourg, and she performed with him on the film's theme song, "La Chanson de Slogan", the first of many collaborations between the two. After filming Slogan, Birkin relocated to France permanently. She had a role in the French thriller La Piscine (1969) and said that the movie had enabled her to stay in France after finishing Slogan: "The film saved me and enabled me to stay in France. I just finished Slogan and was due to go back to England." Though her heavy accent in French eventually did prevent her from getting some roles, it turned out to be an asset in her career, as French audiences found it charming. She later stated: "Without my accent, I would have had a different career."
Collaborations with Serge Gainsbourg edit
In 1969, Gainsbourg and she released the duet "Je t'aime... moi non plus" ("I love you ... me neither"). Gainsbourg had originally written the song for Brigitte Bardot. Birkin said it was "jealousy" that drove her to sing the song. It caused a scandal for its sexual explicitness, and was banned by radio stations in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
[It is] very flattering to have the most beautiful songs, probably, in the French language written for [you]. [But] how much talent did I really have? Perhaps not that much.
— Birkin reflecting on her working relationship with Gainsbourg, 2013
"Je t'aime" made UK chart history in that on 4 October 1969 and the following week on 11 October, the song was at two different chart positions, despite being the same song, the same artists, and the same recorded version, the only difference being that they were on different record labels. It was originally released on the Fontana label, but due to the controversy, Fontana withdrew the record, which was then released on the Major Minor label. Because Fontana singles were still in the shops, along with the Major Minor release, on 4 October 1969, the Major Minor release was at number three and the Fontana single at number 16. Also at that time, it was the biggest-selling single ever for a completely foreign-language record. Birkin appeared on Gainsbourg's 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson, portraying the Lolita-like protagonist in song and on the cover. Reflecting on being a muse and collaborator of Gainsbourg's, Birkin commented: "[It is] very flattering to have the most beautiful songs, probably, in the French language written for one. [But] how much talent did I really have? Perhaps not that much."
She took a break from acting in 1971–1972, but returned as Brigitte Bardot's lover in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973). She called Bardot "fabulously beautiful", saying: "I observed Bardot in the tiniest detail to find a flaw in her. Her mouth, her nose, her skin, her hair... She was fabulously beautiful." The same year, she had a supporting role in the horror film Dark Places with Christopher Lee and Joan Collins. In 1975, she appeared in Gainsbourg's first film as a director, Je t'aime moi non plus, which created a stir for its frank examination of sexual ambiguity, and was banned in the United Kingdom by the British Board of Film Classification. For this performance, she was nominated for a Best Actress César Award.
Later performances and recordings edit
Gainsbourg kept writing her music after their breakup, including Baby Alone in Babylone (1983) and Amours des Feintes (1990). The latter was the last album he wrote before his death in 1991, and the former was their first collaboration after their separation in 1980. Birkin has said: "This was the album of the break-up when everything changed. All of a sudden, Serge got me to sing of his wounds and his feminine side. It was very unsettling to sing about the wounds that you have triggered." While recording the album, she sang as high as she could and said she had become "tired of singing as the little girl who excites gentlemen in trains". She also chose 'Les Dessous chics', as the one song that she'd like to remain, calling it a "a portrait of Serge." She said: "It represents the modesty of feelings, made up outrageously in blood red. Les Dessous chics means keeping one's true feelings deep inside, as fragile as a silk stocking." Lost Song (1987) was also written by Gainsbourg.
She starred in two films directed by Jacques Doillon: as Anne in La fille prodigue (The Prodigal Daughter, 1981) and as Alma in La pirate (1984, nominated for a César Award). She said The Prodigal Daughter (1981) was the first time her performance was well received and "It touched [her] deeply to be taken seriously". Before working with Doillon she didn't know about his work and said: "No one had ever offered me a part like that or asked me to have a nervous breakdown". She cited this film as her favorite, saying: "Piccoli and I were really good. If I die, I would like the film to be shown on television, even at midnight." Upon screening at Cannes, it caused a scandal, which led to an invitation for Birkin from Patrice Chéreau to star on stage in La Fausse suivante by Marivaux at Nanterre. Recalling her experience on the stage, she said: "That was my first stage experience, which finally gave me the courage to sing at the Bataclan."
She worked with director Herbert Vesely on Egon Schiele Exzess und Bestrafung in 1980, appearing as the mistress of Austrian artist Egon Schiele, played by Mathieu Carrière. She then appeared in the Agatha Christie films Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982). Jacques Rivette collaborated with her in Love on the Ground (1983) and La Belle Noiseuse (1991, Nominated Césars best supporting actress). In 1985, she co-starred with John Gielgud in Leave All Fair (1985). She won Female Artist of the Year in the 1992 Victoires de la Musique.
She appeared in Merchant Ivory's A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998) (which also used her song "Di Doo Dah") and in Merci Docteur Rey (2002). The end title song for Le Divorce (2003) featured her singing "L'Anamour", composed by Gainsbourg. In 2006, she played the title role in Elektra, directed by Philippe Calvario in France.
Birkin recorded the song "Beauty" on French producer Hector Zazou's album Strong Currents (2003). The album brought together a number of well-known soloists, features her alongside Laurie Anderson, Irene Grandi and Melanie Gabriel, among others. Jane Birkin and Melanie Gabriel covered songs by Nina Hynes on this album.
The cover art of Have You Fed the Fish? (2002) by singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy features her image and backing vocals by her daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg. In 2006 she recorded and released the album Fictions, and in 2010, recorded a duet, "Marie," with Brazilian singer Sérgio Dias, which appeared on We Are the Lilies, an album by Dias and French band Tahiti Boy and the Palmtree Family; the album also featured contributions from Iggy Pop and others.
In 2016 Birkin appeared in an ongoing campaign for Yves Saint Laurent shot by Hedi Slimane, which featured various female musicians, including Marianne Faithfull, Courtney Love, and Joni Mitchell. The same year, she had the lead role in La femme et le TGV, a short film directed by Swiss filmmaker Timo von Gunten. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. In a 2017 interview, Birkin stated that La femme et le TGV would be her final acting performance, and that she had no plans to return to acting.
On 24 March 2017, Birkin released Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique, a collection of songs Gainsbourg had written for her during and after their relationship, reworked with full orchestral arrangements. In September 2017, she performed live in Brussels to promote the album.
Personal life edit
On 16 October 1965, Birkin married British composer and conductor John Barry, 13 years her senior, in a private ceremony at Chelsea Register Office, London. They met in 1964 when Barry cast Birkin in his musical Passion Flower Hotel. Their daughter was photographer Kate Barry (1967–2013). Their marriage ended in 1968. She said she was insecure during the relationship and "couldn't believe that this sophisticated, talented genius chose [her] and not any of the other girls." She did not want him to see her with her "tiny, piggy eyes" so she would sleep with an eye pencil under her pillow and put it on if he woke up in the night. He eventually went to the United States and left Birkin with their daughter in England.
Birkin had a romantic and creative relationship with French musician Serge Gainsbourg, 18 years her senior, whom she met on the set of Slogan in 1968. They were together for 12 years but never married, despite rumours and misreporting to the contrary.
In 1971, Birkin and Gainsbourg had a daughter, actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. They separated in 1980, due to Gainsbourg's alcoholism and violence. She described him as "a very difficult man to live with", and said during recording sessions he would scream at her and hit her with a ruler if she could not sing a part. She took credit for helping him develop his style later in life, saying: "It's all about me, he listened to me a lot."
On 4 September 1982, she gave birth to her third daughter, Lou Doillon, from her relationship with director Jacques Doillon. She said: "Meeting Jacques was a real turning point in my career. In my private life, after I left Serge, Jacques and I lived together for thirteen years, and had Lou." She said she was surprised and happy to find out that Doillon was not "an old man". They separated in 1993. The Observer reported in 2007 that Doillon "could not compete with her grief for Gainsbourg" (who died in 1991), and that she had lived alone since their separation. Birkin said that Doillon lost interest in casting her in his movies, and she felt "pain for Jacques going off with all these young girls making all these films all the time". Later, Birkin had a relationship with French writer Olivier Rolin.
In 2002, she was diagnosed with leukaemia and underwent rounds of treatment. Birkin often spent time with her six grandchildren. Her daughter, Kate Barry, died in December 2013 after falling from a fourth floor apartment in Paris.
Birkin mainly resided in Paris from the late 1960s onwards. She was described as "a fixture of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood on the Left Bank". In 2020, recalling 1970s Paris, she said: "it was a time of great innocence, and I don't think social problems were as they are today." On 6 September 2021, it was reported that Birkin was doing well after having a stroke.
On 16 July 2023, Birkin was found dead at home in Paris. She was 76. No cause of death was disclosed. The premier of the documentary Jane by Charlotte, about Birkin's relationship with her daughter Charlotte, on 8 July 2021, was one of her last public appearances. Her funeral took place at the Church of Saint-Roch in the 1st arrondissement of Paris on the morning of July 24. After the funeral, her remains were cremated at the crematorium of Père Lachaise Cemetery and then, her ashes were interred at Montparnasse Cemetery, in the grave of her daughter, Kate Barry, and in the same cemetery where her partner of 12 years, Serge Gainsbourg was buried.
Many fans gathered to watch the ceremony on a large screen outside of the church. France's First Lady Brigitte Macron and Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak, Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni; Vanessa Paradis; Maïwenn; Sandrine Kiberlain; Carole Bouquet; Charlotte Rampling and Anthony Vaccarello were among the attendees.
Political views and activism edit
As a child, Birkin demonstrated in the streets of London against capital punishment. In the 1970s, she campaigned for the right to abortion and appeared at the Bobigny trial, in support of four women accused of having helped the high school student Marie-Claire Chevalier to have an abortion following a rape.
Birkin campaigned against the far-right in France, participating in a protest denouncing the qualification of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of the 2002 presidential election. In 2017, she performed at a free concert at the Place de la République organised in opposition to Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election.
Birkin also demonstrated support for immigrants, denouncing the French government's policy towards undocumented migrants in 2010. The same year, she protested outside the residence of the Minister of Immigration, Éric Besson. She also announced that she was sponsoring a young Congolese who had requested political asylum. In 2015, she marched in Paris in support of refugees.
In September 2018, following the resignation of French environment minister Nicolas Hulot, Birkin was one of the 200 artists and scientists who signed an open letter published on the front page of the daily Le Monde titled "The Greatest Challenge in the History of Mankind", which urged politicians to act "firmly and immediately" in fighting climate change and the "collapse of biodiversity".
In late 2022, Birkin, among other French women, cut her hair in support of Iranian women and girls who had been killed in protests at the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by Iranian morality police.
Awards and honours edit
Birkin won the "Best Actress" award at the 1985 Orleans Film Festival for Leave All Fair. The jury of the 1985 Venice Film Festival recognised Birkin's performance in Dust as amongst the best of the year, but decided not to award a best actress prize because all of the actresses they judged to have made the best performances were in films that won major awards. Dust won the Silver Lion prize.
In the diplomatic and overseas list of the 2001 Birthday Honours, Birkin was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire "for services to acting and UK-French cultural relations". She received the Order from the Prince of Wales in April 2002. In 2022, she was raised to the highest rank in the order – Commandeur.
In popular culture edit
Birkin basket edit
Birkin was described as having carried a hand-woven straw basket from Castro Marim in Algarve, Portugal, everywhere she went—from the market, to nightclubs, to formal events—until her husband Jacques Doillon intentionally ran over it with his car in the early 1980s.
Birkin bag edit
In 1983, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin had just placed her straw basket in the overhead compartment of her seat, but the contents fell to the floor, leaving her to scramble to replace the contents. Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked. In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her: the Birkin bag, based on a 1982 design. She used the bag initially, but later changed her mind because she was carrying too many things in it: "What's the use of having a second one?" she said laughingly. "You only need one and that busts your arm; they're bloody heavy. I'm going to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder." Nonetheless, Birkin did use the bag for some time. The Birkin bag has, over the years, become a status symbol, with prices ranging from US$10,000 to $500,000.
In 2015, Birkin wrote a public letter to Hermès requesting her name be removed from the bag, stating she wanted the company to "debaptise the Birkin Croco until better practices in line with international norms can be put in place", referring to the cruel methods used to acquire the skins for the crocodile variant of the bags. Hermès announced soon afterwards that it had satisfied Birkin with new reassurances on this.
|1965||Armchair Mystery Theatre||Anthea Langridge||Episode: "That Finishing Touch"|
|1967–8||Armchair Theatre||Babs / Judy||Episodes: "Recount"; "Poor Cherry"|
|1974||Bons baisers de Tarzan||Jeanne||Television film|
|1985||La fausse suivante||La Comtesse||Television film|
|1988||Médecins des hommes||Joy||Episode: "Mer de Chine: Le pays pour mémoire"|
|1990||L'ex-femme de ma vie||Aurélie||Television film|
|1991||Red Fox||Violet Harrison||Miniseries|
|2006||Les aventuriers des mers du Sud||Fanny Stevenson||Television film|
|2011-2013||Les saisons meurtrières||Lili Rousseau||Miniseries. Episodes: "Hiver rouge" and "Bleu catacombes"|
See also edit
- "From The Archive: When Vogue Captured Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg In Love". British Vogue. 8 April 2020. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
- Décugis, Jean-Michel (16 July 2023). "Jane Birkin est morte à l'âge de 76 ans". Le Parisien (in French). Retrieved 16 July 2023.
- "Franco-British singer and actress Jane Birkin dies in Paris aged 76". Euronews. 16 July 2023.
A naturalised French citizen, Birkin moved to France in the late 1960s
- Vezin, Annette; Vezin, Luc (200). The 20th Century Muse. Harry N. Abrams. p. 1180. ISBN 978-0-8109-9154-5.
- Deadlier Than the Male: Femme Fatales in 1960s and 1970s Cinema. BearManor Media.
- Dallach, Christoph (30 October 2006). "MELODIEN FÜR MILLIONEN". Spiegel.de. Archived from the original on 15 October 2010.
- "Les Heures Ou Je M'Eclipse". Recordoftheday.com.
- McLean, Craig (20 September 2017). "Jane Birkin interview: If my songs seem painful — it's for my daughter Kate". Evening Standard. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
- Crawford, Gabrielle (director) (2003). Jane Birkin: Mother of All Babes. Sundance TV.
- "Interview: Jane Birkin on life, love, style, growing older and Serge Gainsbourg". Vogue France (in French). 24 August 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2023.
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- "Slogan (AKA L'amour et l'amour)". FilmAffinity. 1969.
- Simmons, Sylvie (2002). Serge Gainsbourg : a fistful of gitanes : requiem for a twister (1st ed.). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-306-81183-8.
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Contrary to rumors, Jane and Serge never did marry. "He said in France I'd need to be fingerprinted and have a blood sample", Jane says, "and I was slightly offended and said, 'What on earth for?' I also had a secret fear that marriage changed things, and so, in fact, we weren't."
- McKie, Andrew (25 February 2011). "Death Is Not the End". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
Serge Gainsbourg and actress Jane Birkin often referred to each other as husband and wife, but in fact they were never married, according to Ms. Birkin's agent. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Ms. Birkin twice as Gainsbourg's third wife
- Adams, William Lee (26 January 2010). "French Chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg". Time. Archived from the original on 29 January 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
My parents weren't married so I don't have an ideal image of marriage that I'm hoping for.
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- Nomination dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres – hiver 2022, 4 May 2022
- Jane Birkin et sa fille Lou Doillon qui reçevait le 10 avril 2013 à Paris les insignes de chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres des mains de la ministre de la Culture et de la Communication Aurélie Filippetti., 10 April 2013
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