Brigitte Bardot may live a reclusive life in her home above the bay of Saint-Tropez but she continues to make headlines in France.
Her face has been staring out from posters on buses and billboards advertising a much-hyped series on her life to be aired by France 2, the state broadcaster, from next week.
The six-part series, titled Bardot, is described as an insight into an actress who rose to stardom, helping to transform gender relations, sexuality and fashion in postwar France and across much of the West along the way.
“You can say that she was the first influencer,” said Danièle Thompson, who directed the series with her son, Christopher.
Yet the program, which traces 10 years of Bardot’s career during the 1950s, is also being seen as a window on a pivotal moment in modern French history, when the country threw off its conservative shackles in the search for freedom.
The era is remembered as one of prosperity and promise. The economy was booming, French diplomatic prestige was being restored after the Second World War and the nation’s culture was viewed with admiration around the world, with Bardot in the forefront following the success of her movie And God Created Woman in 1956.
The mood today is very different, with the country divided, its diplomacy questioned, its films losing ground to Hollywood and its president under fire on all sides.
Bardot, 88, wrote Macron an open letter last month in which she told him: “You are an evil being. You have turned France into a rubbish bin that serves as your throne and you take a sadistic pleasure in making your people suffer.”
She went on to complain that he had not done enough for animal welfare — the cause to which she has dedicated her life after ending her movie career in 1973.
Bardot has long been close to the populist right-wing party National Rally, and to this extent her attacks on Macron are not entirely surprising. Yet they remain damaging, given her status in France.
“She is an icon of her era,” said Julia de Nunez, 22, the little-known actress who plays Bardot in the TV series.
Co-produced with Netflix and Italy’s Mediaset, the program starts with Bardot as a teenager brought up in a conservative Parisian household before embarking on a film career and falling in love with Roger Vadim, her first husband and the director of And God Created Woman.
Bardot, 88, wrote Macron an open letter last month in which she told him: “You are an evil being.”
In the first episode, as 18-year-old Bardot prepares for a church wedding, her father congratulates her on having preserved her virginity before marriage. She responds by sitting her parents down and telling them that she has been sleeping with Vadim since the age of 15.
Thompson, 81, said Bardot had opened paths for future generations of French women. “She loved men and she assumed it. It wasn’t done at the time to have one lover after another and you didn’t talk about it.
“Through Bardot, we talk as well about the liberation of sexuality. She was someone who said, ‘Yes, I have the right. I have the right to say what I want, to dress like I want, the right not to want a child, to have an abortion.’ ”
Later episodes feature some of Bardot’s other lovers, such as Jean-Louis Trintignant, the acclaimed French actor, and Sacha Distel, the singer. The series depicts her global celebrity but also the downsides that came with it: the loneliness, the paparazzi, the fans idolizing her, the detractors hurling insults at her, the police escort she required when leaving a shop and the desire to get away from it all.
Critics in France have praised the series although Bardot, who has yet to see it, was less enthusiastic, saying she wanted nothing to do with an “idiotic biopic”.
This week, in a sign of her continued importance to the French, France Dimanche, a glossy downmarket magazine, claimed that she was in hospital, “between life and death”. The report quickly spread across the Internet, causing consternation before Bardot set the record straight.
“I am very well,” she said in a handwritten note posted on her Twitter account, presumably with the help of a friend, since she does not possess a computer, or even a typewriter.
Bardot will stream on Netflix beginning in late 2023
Adam Sage is the Paris correspondent for The Times of London. He has covered five presidential elections and countless scandals