Jane Birkin obituary


The sultry 1969 hit single Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus was a four-and-a-half-minute distillation of languid Gallic cool, during which a Frenchman, his voice coarsened by Gitanes, is heard billing and cooing with an ecstatically sighing younger Englishwoman over the swirling motif of a baroque organ. That man was Serge Gainsbourg; his companion was Jane Birkin, the actor and singer, who has died aged 76. Although Birkin labored with among the world’s most interesting film-makers, together with Jacques Rivette and Agnès Varda, she knew that Je T’aime … could be remembered above every part else she did. “After I die, that’ll be the tune they play, as I’m going out ft first,” she stated.

Birkin was 21 when she and Gainsbourg met whereas starring collectively within the movie Slogan (1969). He was 40, and had beforehand recorded Je T’aime … as a duet with Brigitte Bardot, just for the actor to withdraw permission for it to be launched. Birkin had already starred in a 1965 musical, Ardour Flower Lodge, scored by John Barry, whom she married that yr on the age of 19 and from whom she was divorced in 1968; he was the daddy of Kate, the primary of Birkin’s three daughters. However it was on the duet with Gainsbourg, she stated, that for the primary time “any individual thought I had a fairly voice”.

She sang her half an octave increased than Bardot. “It gave it a choirboy aspect that [Gainsbourg] appreciated so much,” she stated. Rumours that the vocal monitor was recorded underneath the covers throughout a second of intimacy have been unfaithful (the couple have been standing at separate microphones in a studio in central London) although they did nothing to hurt the mythology surrounding a tune that was later condemned by the Vatican. “I simply bear in mind considering it was all terribly humorous,” she stated.

Je t’aime … moi non plus sung by Jane Birken – video

Among the many nations that refused to present the tune airplay was Britain, the place it turned the primary banned single to succeed in the highest of the charts, in addition to the primary non-English-language No 1. It was additionally the lead monitor on the 1969 album Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg.

Birkin’s life remained inextricably linked to his. They have been collectively for 11 years, and had a daughter, Charlotte, who turned a profitable singer and actor. Even after they separated in 1980, he continued to jot down for her, and he or she went on performing his songs for the remainder of her life.

Removed from being an adjunct to Gainsbourg’s legend, she possessed her personal model, intelligence and perspective. Her wistful magnificence was rendered unorthodox by an keen, gap-toothed smile. Her voice was as bewitching as her face: although she lived in France from 1969 onwards, and spoke French fluently, she by no means shed her breathy, crisply English accent.

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Jane Birkin with Michel Piccoli within the Jacques Rivette movie La Belle Noiseuse, 1991. {Photograph}: Ronald Grant Archive

She was born in London to Judy Campbell, an actor who had been a muse to Noël Coward, and David Birkin, who was a lieutenant commander within the Royal Navy and a spy through the second world warfare. His duties included taking British spies throughout the Channel to France and bringing again stranded airmen and escaped prisoners of warfare.

Jane was educated at Higher Chine faculty on the Isle of Wight. At 17 she starred with Ralph Richardson in Graham Greene’s play Carving a Statue; Greene himself had a hand in casting her. Her display screen performing profession started with a walk-on half in The Knack … and Methods to Get It (1965) and a controversial nude scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which she agreed to as a result of Barry had informed her she wouldn’t dare.

She had a small position within the Warren Beatty caper Kaleidoscope (additionally 1966), performed a mannequin known as Penny Lane within the psychedelic curiosity Wonderwall (1968) and starred with Romy Schneider and Alain Delon within the psychological thriller La Piscine (1969). She bought on famously with Bardot after they starred collectively in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Had been a Lady (1973). Gainsbourg directed her in a 1976 movie named after their hit tune; he solid her as a boyish lady who attracts the attentions of a homosexual man, performed by the Warhol common Joe Dallesandro.

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Jane Birkin with Agnès Varda on the set of Kung-Fu Grasp!, 1988. {Photograph}: Alamy

Birkin was great enjoyable in two star-studded Agatha Christie thrillers, Loss of life on the Nile (1978) and Evil Beneath the Solar (1982). Within the cryptic Love on the Floor (1984), Rivette solid her and Geraldine Chaplin as actors drawn right into a playwright’s mysterious world. She appeared in two movies, The Pirate (1984) and Comedy! (1987), made by her then accomplice, Jacques Doillon, with whom she had her third daughter, Lou, additionally a singer and actor. Jean-Luc Godard directed her in Preserve Your Proper Up (additionally 1987), whereas for Varda she performed a lady besotted with a 14-year-old boy in Kung-Fu Grasp! (1988); the movie co-starred Charlotte and featured Lou, and was impressed by an concept by Birkin herself.

In the identical yr, Varda made her the topic of Jane B For Agnès V, during which the actor carried out quite a lot of specifically scripted scenes (in a single, she was a Stan Laurel sort, in one other a cockney mom) interspersed with musings on her life. She obtained the documentary remedy as soon as once more when her daughter directed Jane By Charlotte (2021).

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Jane Birkin performing on the Primavera Sound competition in Barcelona, 2018. {Photograph}: Adela Loconte/Rex/Shutterstock

Her two most spectacular performances got here in Bertrand Tavernier’s These Silly Issues, aka Daddy Nostalgie (1990), during which she was shifting as a lady attempting to restore her relationship along with her dying father (Dirk Bogarde); and La Belle Noiseuse (1991), Rivette’s spellbinding four-hour examine of a painter (Michel Piccoli) and his new muse (Emmanuelle Béart), during which Birkin performed the artist’s spouse and former mannequin, who should cope with the indignity of getting her youthful self actually painted over.

Later movies included Alain Resnais’s musical On Connaît la Chanson (1997) and the Service provider-Ivory coming-of-age story A Soldier’s Daughter By no means Cries (1998).

In 2002 Birkin was identified with leukaemia, however by 2006 she had made her directorial debut with the autobiographical household drama Packing containers, which she additionally wrote and starred in, together with Chaplin, Piccoli, John Damage and her daughter Lou. She appeared in Rivette’s ultimate movie, Round a Small Mountain (2009), performed herself in Hong Sang-soo’s No person’s Daughter Haewon, and was reunited with Tavernier for his comedy The French Minister (additionally 2013).

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Jane Birkin in 2015 along with her Birkin, the bag named in her honour by the French style home Hermès. {Photograph}: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Her look had been broadly applauded within the Nineteen Sixties, and appeared by no means to go outdated. Within the 80s Hermès launched a big and exorbitantly priced leather-based bag, named “the Birkin” in her honour. Vogue journalists in recent times might nonetheless be heard celebrating the “Jane Birkin high”, referring to the white lace gown made well-known by her within the late 60s. “Actual life was what I used to be finest at,” she informed Vogue journal in 2016. “I didn’t believe in film cameras or on stage. However I did believe in what I needed in actual life. If I needed to be barefoot and put on a waterproof coat, I might do it. I didn’t give a hoot.”

It was at 40 that she lastly discarded her youthful ingénue picture and carried out her first reside live performance: “I lower my hair off like a boy, I wore males’s garments. I solely needed folks to listen to the music and phrases. It was improbable. And it was so horrifying. Serge was there and he saved lighting his cigarette lighter to make everyone put their lighters on.” That present was preserved on her 1987 album, Jane Birkin au Bataclan. She continued singing and recording into her previous age; amongst her later albums is Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique, from 2017, during which the couple’s songs obtained new orchestral preparations.

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Jane Birkin along with her daughter Charlotte on the premiere of the documentary Jane By Charlotte, 2021. {Photograph}: Sébastien Nogier/EPA

In 2020 she revealed Munkey Diaries 1957-1982, containing diary entries addressed to her favorite cuddly toy from childhood, which she could be seen clutching on the duvet of Gainsbourg’s 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson. She buried the toy with him after his demise in 1991.

She is survived by Charlotte and Lou, and 6 grandchildren, and by her brother, Andrew, and sister, Linda. Kate, a photographer, died in 2013.


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