Sins (1986, Douglas Hickox) – The Joan Collins Blogathon

This post is a contribution to the Joan Collins blogathon run by Gil at RealWeegieMidgetReviews. Somehow despite her busy Dynasty schedule Collins found time to produce this glossy mini-series set in Paris. I’ve wanted to see Sins for ages, partly because I love these late 70s’/early 80s’ big-budget events and partly because this has a wonderfully eclectic cast. These kind of shows were designed to dominate an evenings viewing back in the day when there was a limited choice of networks available to people, so they’re bold and brash and there’s plenty of high drama. They feel like the natural successors to the woman’s pictures of the 1950s’, a genre that got waylaid by the breakdown of the studio system, and all that melodrama seems to have gone into TV and the prime-time soap opera. Two of my favourites are Bare Essence (1982, Walter Grauman) set in the world of professional perfume-making and A Woman of Substance (1985, Don Sharp), both of which tell underdog stories about young women trying to make it in the world of business despite their backgrounds being against them. Sins tries to tell a similar story but something’s not quite right. The frequent jumps between time-frames are disorientating and some of the narrative choices are quite frankly nuts.

What makes it worthwhile is the cast who all do their best to rise above the material. Sins is notable for being the final onscreen appearance of Gene Kelly. Some of the other names have fallen out of cultural memory as the years have passed. I am ashamed to say I don’t know the work of Jean-Pierre Aumont at all. I almost didn’t recognise Kraken-bait Judi Bowker with short brown hair, Capucine will be used to starring in French farces having appeared in The Pink Panther (1963) and What’s New Pussycat! (1965). Steven Berkoff was action cinema’s go-to psycho in the early 80s’ in films like Octopussy (1983, John Glen), Beverley Hills Cop (1984, Martin Brest), and Rambo: First Blood Part III (George P. Cosmatos), and he brings his own brand of swivel-eyed crop-headed lunacy to his role here, while Lauren Hutton makes for a glamorous love and business rival. And then there’s Sins has Timothy Dalton just a few months before he would be cast as the new James Bond.

Although the production is sold on the Dynasty connection it’s unusual seeing 80s’ era Joan Collins playing against type as some a kind-hearted soul whose strength is being a survivor rather than outmanoeuvring her opponents. Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan would have wiped the floor with everybody on this show. Collins has brought onboard fellow Dynasty alumni James Farentino to play the best of her lovers, a soldier who goes MIA in Vietnam, and might have had a hand in bringing Neil Dickson onto Dynasty for a short-three episode run towards the end of season 7. This felt like an introduction for a major new character, but this went nowhere, save for a bizarre montage scene where he took Alexis on a date to a burger bar on a motorcycle while a cover of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away played on the soundtrack. I do wonder if Dickson’s character Gavin Maurier was initially intended to be the character played by James Healey in season 8. The mysterious stranger routine and the initial interactions with Alexis are very similar.

Sins takes place over four decades and follows the rise of fashion magazine editor Helene (Joan Collins) from her childhood during WWII, through her time as a fashion model in the 50s’, to her time as a journalist and the eventual launch of her flagship title Woman of Today in the 80s’, as well as a series of disastrous relationships, and the search for her brother Edmund (Timothy Dalton) who has been missing since they were separated during the war. Every decade brings a new powerful adversary who eventually all come together to form a cabal determined to destroy her. There’s sadistic former Nazi officer Von Eiderfeld (Steven Berkoff) who raided Helene’s home and killed her mother for sending messages to the Allied forces. Whiny Count Hubert Du Ville (Neil Dickson), who killed her ex-husband (Gene Kelly), her former boss Marcello (Giancarlo Giannini) seeking revenge for her taking his company and ending his career, and finally love-rival ZZ (Lauren Hutton) who blames Helene for the death of her husband. All of the ingredients are here for a decent mini-series but even with an old pro like Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood) directing it doesn’t come together. Sins is based on a novel by Judith Gould, a pseudonym for co-authors Nicholas Peter Bienes and Rhea Gallaher, and there’s two people’s worth of ideas in here. All of the money’s onscreen, Collins has 85 wardrobe changes, there’s lavish parties, fancy locations, but it still feels cheap. I can see now why it was difficult to get hold of for a long time.