cinema archive documentaries vivien leigh

Vivien Leigh: Made in Japan

Vivien Leigh japanese Documentary

A couple of years ago, I did a contest on this site during which I gave away a couple copies of a recently released Japanese documentary about Vivien Leigh. I’m still not sure exactly what it’s called, but according to my Japanese-British friend, it’s something like, “Vivien Leigh: Young Heroine that Loved Eternally.” I call it “The Japanese Vivien Leigh Documentary.”

Made by Basara Ltd. in 2010 as part of a series of TV documentaries that focused on classic film stars that are still big in Japan, “The Japanese Vivien Leigh Documentary” takes a unique approach to telling Vivien’s story. Rather than just replaying Vivien Leigh’s life through photos and video footage, it follows her great-granddaughter, Sophie Farrington, on a journey of discovery. Sophie travelled to London and Hollywood (and to Notley Abbey and Tickerage Mill) to interview those who are still alive who knew Vivien, and in the process learned more about her famous relative.

Like any documentary, there are good and bad things about this one.

The Good:

  • It’s really interesting to see members of Vivien’s family today, especially considering how private they’ve always been.
  • There are people interviewed here that I’d never seen in previous documentaries.
  • Hearing audio clips of Jack Merivale speaking about Vivien Leigh in an interview with Hugo Vickers.
  • I got to help as a photo consultant. Many of the photos used as filler came from my personal collection.

The Bad:

  • The editing is very, very sloppy. You’ll notice things like people being cut off mid-sentence, the English translator whispering in the background, cameramen not ducking out of the shots in time.
  • Random historical re-enactments.
  • They interviewed Sophie having dinner at the Olive Garden. Okay, maybe that should be in the “good” section.
  • Sparkly purple text.
  • No English subtitles, including names of people being interviewed.

People featured include Hugo Vickers, Trader Faulkner, Tarquin Olivier, Ann Rutherford, Daniel Selznick, Sally Hardy (Jack Merivale’s step-sister), Louise Olivier, Rupert Farrington and Amy Farrington.

This documentary has a running time of 90 minutes. It has been uploaded exclusively for readers here at and cannot be found on DVD.



Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (19)

  1. I thought the girls’ comments and some of the questions they sought out were interesting: Did Vivien bring a tragic ending to her life or expect it? I am sorry we didn’t see more of their hand-written list of questions and see how many of them were actually answered. I wonder if the Japanese filmmakers sought Sophie out in particular to make this type of documentary or if it is something Sophie already wanted to do (although I would think she would have gotten a British filmmaker if that were the case…)?
    I think family history is a fascinating thing to study no matter who you are related to.
    I thought Sophie was a charming girl and was happy so many people were (alive and) amenable to talking to her about her great-grandmother.
    You joked about the crew taking her to the Olive Garden. They also apparently put her up at a Best Western and made her ride coach on a transatlantic flight. Classy.
    If you liked this family discovery doc, you might like Lisa Kudrow’s NBC show “Who do you think you are?”.

  2. What a wonderful and interesting documentary. More than a simple bio. What a great idea, having a member of Vivien’s family walking down memory lane… With the double portrait of an amazing woman, who certainly built her way up, through tears and drama, and a lovely young girl questioning her own future, with lessons of the past. In spite of the awkward and frustrating editing, cutting off people through their most interesting answers, it’s still very touching, and moving. And many thanks for posting it.

  3. Thanks again Kendra,
    It was interesting to watch ! As you pointed, there are some flaws to the documentary… Some things irritating… But meeting those people who knew her was very interesting… if only YOU were in charge of making such a documentary ! It would have been much better… I know you are having a lot of interviews with various people who were connected to Vivien, so I know that one day we will have the chance to appreciate your work… I couldn’t helped but imagine you, instead of Sophie, asking more accurate questions… But let’s not complain… A new doc about Vivien is always a treat…

    It’s a shame it was not subtitled… I had trouble understanding most of Jack Merivale’s interview (english is not my first language)… And as you said it was frustrating when some sentences were cut abruptly.

    There is a strange feeling of a “fake” situation here… If my great-grandmother was Vivien Leigh, I think I would know everything possible about her (especially if I would like to be an actor, like Sophie seems to be)… But several times I had the feeling that Sophie barely knew WHO was Vivien Leigh !! Awkward…

    I wish I could identify the people who were interviewed. I didn’t catch who were 2 or 3 of the ladies interviewed. Also, I am always frustrated when they show the iconic portrait of Scarlett in the BBQ dress, inverted right/left !! As her eyebrows were not symetrical (giving her that unique look), it is a big change when a picture of her is inverted… And this photo in the documentary is supposed to belong to her great-grand- daughter !
    Well I guess that was a part of the “setting” of the whole documentary.

    Anyway, again, thanks a lot for this !
    Despite the flaws it was a very interesting watch.

  4. Ah, the illusive Japanese documentary that I have heard so much about! Such a treat after a long day at work. Thank you for taking the time to upload. I really enjoyed watching this.

  5. Dear Kendra,
    Thank you ever so much for taking the time to upload this. Despite it’s flaws, I very much appreciated “meeting” Viv’s great granddaughter. At times it made me emotional, knowing what Viv went through. I loved the interviews with Tarquin, he’s such a dear man.
    All in all, it was a pleasure to view!

  6. Thank you and well done for going to the trouble of sharing this with everyone.
    I must say that it is more than interesting to hear from many ordinary people who knew Vivien.I always think that these people often provide more of an insight than some of the more well known people.
    I liked Sophie’s relaxed, unpretentious style of presenting she certainly did a good job for someone not a professional and in the business.
    I agree with your comments about the editing,although they did provide for one or two ‘laugh out loud moments’ ,esp towards the end when Sophie is arranging the afternoon tea and the camera cuts to Targuin arriving to the front door.You could almost hear someone shouting “…aaaaand CUE Tarquin!!”
    I also imagine it must have been doubly interesting for you personally,knowing so many of the people and places.
    Thanks again Kendra.

  7. -dear Kendra, what an extraordinary contribution again!!! would like so much to view it properly but in Germany I get it only cut in tedious little pieces, it starts reloading every 5 seconds, so it will take hours before I’ve seen the whole doc. Can you suggest any remedy? Thanks in advance,Renata

  8. Thanks for sharing this documentary with us, Kendra, it has been so kind and generous of you. Of course, I agree with other comments , it’s a doc of great interest for everyone who care about this legendary star but I can’t help being impressed by the apparent lack of awareness of younger generations , even of people related to the them, of the Olivier’s great,immense artistic achievements.On the other hand, I’m always fascinated by the tenderness and quiet understanding with which Tarquin Olivier talks about his father and stepmother …I know, he did share their life but that could even have been a problem for someone who didnt possess his sensitivity and accomplished personality.

  9. Darling Kendra:)
    Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful documentary with us.I think this idea of Sophie taking this journey through her great-grandmother life was also great experience for her.It was really sad when she read about Vivien illness and she start crying.Now we all know more about Vivien thank to you.

  10. dear Kendra, this time it worked for me as well,did you press a miraculous digital button for me-all of a sudden no more interruptions, continuous viewing. Nothing much in the news line though but great ,great fun seeing Tarquin showing now more of his father’s features than ever before and he seemed sort of tired of having to say all those sad things one more time.; how kindly he treated this “great-niece”(?)who struck me as pretty odd to profess on the one hand to always have admired Vivien but who knew so little about her in spite of living in our age of the media opening all ways to information. On the whole though it was a very rewarding viewing for me and I thank you very much for your generous sharing.Best regards,Renata

  11. Hi Kendra … Thank you so much for sharing this! Despite the flaws you forewarned us about, it was fascinating. I feel certain that Sophie must have possessed a much deeper knowledge of Vivien than she was able to let on … that she was simply going along with the premise of the piece. She’s a very sweet girl and I found her quite touching, particularly in the moments dealing with Vivien’s manic-depression. I was a bit put off near the end when Tarquin showed her the spot where Vivien’s ashes were scattered at Tickerage and Sophie responded “I wonder if she’s still down there!”, but I suppose that was just awkwardness and nervousness and a sign of her youth (how old was Sophie when she made this, anyway?). Tarquin is very charming, and I thought he covered over the tactlessness of Sophie’s comment very well. I always enjoy hearing him interviewed about Vivien and Larry. Also very interesting was the lady that, as a little girl, was a neighbor of Vivien’s at Tickerage. I love the photo that her little brother took of Vivien in the garden, and the story she told about it. And I really enjoyed the lady that acted with Vivien & Jack in “Duel of Angels” and told the story about Vivien writing ‘thank-you’ notes in reply to the ‘thank-you’ notes she received (and prompted!) for the gifts she’d given to the cast & crew at the end of the run of the play … that’s an anecdote I don’t remember having heard before (who was she, by the way?). Anyway, it was a privilege to see this, and I appreciate you for posting it.

    Best regards, Kendra … I hope all is well with you, and that things are coming together for you with the book project!

  12. Thank you so much Kendra for uploading this! I found that Sophie became more sensitive as the documentary evolved. I have always been amazed at the -seeming at least- lack of interest and empathy that is shown on the side of V’s family- Sophie’s father speaks in such a detached way about Vivien. Also I think that in this particular documentary, which is quite family focused, Suzanne’s input was missing. Tarquin is always so wonderful and touching! Who was the elderly lady with the white hair? I think that you could make a much better documentary though!!! XX

  13. Finally got around to watching this. I do agree that it was a wonderful idea having Sophie discovering her background and her great grandmother via this journey. What a pity is was not of better quality. But I did find it upsetting in a way because this amazing human being who lived such an awesome existence and who we cherish so much seems to be a stranger to her own family. I particularly found the comment “it’s not something we talk highly of in the family” odd. I’m hoping that Sophie has now, a deeper appreciation of her. I wonder if the apparent ignorance was for the documentary itself though. Surely having a great grandmother who won 2 academy awards and who is part of theatre history is spoken about and valued…well I hope to think so. Tarquin as always provides the most sensitive and understanding commentary and it was lovely seeing Sophie making tea in what I think is Tickerage’s kitchen. Thanks so much for sharing this as it’s from such an original and never before seen angle.

    1. I think your comments about Sophie are somewhat unfair.
      Firstly,I think what comes across is that the family of Vivien are very wary about gettingTOO involved with the media/fans in general.They clearly have co-operated with biographers in the past and would, therefore, assume that they haven’t anything new to contribute.Besides there is always a fine line between being helpful and cashing in.
      Furthermore,one must remember that Suzanne barely knew her mother,so expecting her grandchildren and great grandchildren to be ‘experts’ on Vivien is not terribly realistic.
      I’m sure,also, that the ‘voyage of discovey’ bit was exaggerated somewhat for the purposes of dramtic tv.


    From what I’ve been able to understand, after a japanese friend sat through the whole of the japanese documentary, “Vivien Leigh, Eternal Heroine… Her loves, her true story”, was commissioned by NHK to the TV production company Basara.
    The point of this 90-minutes documentary was to interview several various people, involved at one point or another, in Vivien’s life and career…
    The main attraction, being Sophie Farrington, Vivien Leigh’s great-granddaughter, being the interviewer. And so, besides a more modern point of view, to offer an intimate journey into a family story.
    Among the people who were considered to appear in the documentary, Tarquin Olivier, Trader Faulkner, Louise Olivier, Sally Hardy… some made it to the screen. But what happened to the likes of Viscount John Julius Norwich, Rosemary Geddes and the initial focus on the ups & downs of both partners in the marriage being actors (for which Basara had launched a contribution request) nothing is said…

    From the start, the documentary has to do without the help of one major character in Vivien’s story : her own daughter, Suzanne. Although she is living quite close to the Farringtons, she is reported as being really discreet about her mother. Even in the family circle, Vivien is not the object of too much talking, as it seems…

    “Vivien, why did you want to play Scarlett ?” : The first major travel of Sophie brings her to Hollywood, to meet Daniel Selznick in Culver City. Sophie having always been interested in the filming of the fire of the train station in Atlanta. Where all the legend began. A legend entirely made up by David O’Selznick, according to his son. And which was decided in a collective way, carefully preparing the famous night, where Vivien would be “discovered”. Two days before the fire, Olivier had arranged to have Vivien meet with Selznick, where she had played the part in his office, and left him totally in trance…

    After Selznick, Sophie meets with Trader Faulkner, who tells about how Vivien took to dancing and theatre playing at Roehampton, to fight her solitude… Faulkner also says how much she developed a will of her own, to the point of asking every kind of details about Larry’s likes and dislikes, to the woman she was going to betray, Jill Esmond.

    First big surprise of the documentary, is the interview with totally charming DAWN WILSON. Dawn lost her parent at a very young age, and was raised with Suzanne, by Leigh. That’s why she speaks of him as a father figure, with a lot of admiration and sensibility.

    The second chapter of the documentary, “Vivien and Olivier”, focus on the tormented story between the two actors… With Tarquin Olivier, insisting on Larry’s guilt about breaking his first marriage. Jill Esmond having suffered terribly by the divorce, since she had loved Larry so deeply. Adding that according to a normal pattern, the two women should have been the worst enemies… But Vivien and Larry were no ordinary creatures…

    The third chapter is called “Last Love”. The most frustrating part of it being the bad audio quality in Jack Merivale’s tapes. Which here is helped a bit by the japanese translation. In the first tape, Jack recalls how he seduced Vivien, by trying to teach a parrot to insult a man who was trying to prevent them to visit a garden. Vivien laughed. And that’s how she realized her attraction to him. She found he was unique. Because she loved to laugh, and Jack made her laugh.

    In the second tape, Jack says he feels a bit like a servant, doing anything to try and help comforting her. That when he tells about finding Tickerage, after driving a long time in the country. They stopped and watched Tickerage, the house by the water, Vivien sighed, and he felt she was to buy the house.

    SALLY HARDY, Jack Merivale’s step sister, is interviewed. She was born Sally Pearson, the daughter of Gladys Cooper and Sir Neville Pearsons. And she was married to Robert Hardy, from 1961 to 1986. She is the one who speaks about her “incestuous” love for Jack.

    Another interesting witness is ANN PRESS (I’m not sure of the name). With her brother, Rod, she lived near Tickerage, when she was 13, and became friend with Vivien. She says Tickerage was certainly a refuge, but Vivien would never have stopped her acting, and was not thinking of retiring, she liked it too much…
    She also tries very gently to say how much Vivien loved having Suzanne at Tickerage, with her grand children, like Rupert, Sophie’s father. And how she asked the grand children to call her “granny”.

    The actress CAROLYN PERTWEE who played opposite Vivien in Duel of Angels, then tells very interesting facts.

    The third tape of Hugo Vicker’s interview with Jack, tells how his relation with Vivien grew and became more serious. They took long walks together, Vivien was resting on his shoulder. It was very soft. But she also had her Scarlett moments. And he decided to dedicate his life trying to live with her and for her.

    In another tape we hear Jack telling about Vivien’s death : “I spoke to her on the phone. She sounded very tired. But said she was fine. When I arrived at the flat I went to see her in the bedroom. She was asleep, with the cat besides her. I went to the kitchen and made some soup. Then I came back and she was lying on the floor. I tried to hold her but felt she was dead. Even today I still feel guilty. Maybe there was something I could have done. Olivier was at the hospital. I called him. He said he was coming right away. And he came, and stayed the whole night”

    In the last tape, Jack says how Vivien and he were happy. “I had Vivien’s love, and I loved her too…”

  15. Omg.. Vivien Leigh will always be one of my most favourite actresses and so I am always interested in anything ‘Vivien’. I literally could not get through this documentary, Sophie was a poor choice as her incessant nervous giggle after each sentence made watching this intolerable. She act ed like a 15 year old. And I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of technology which allows people to find out so much more if their heritage that she is on this superficial ‘quest’ for knowledge about her great-grandmother, one of the most famous actresses ever lived. I find this documentary very contrived, the interviews lacking in depth and of course Sophie, who comes across as stupid and giggly. I shall try and watch more if this, too bad bc obviously she met a lot of people who knew Vivien, perhaps someone else could try and make a better documentary!

  16. What a lovely warm person Tarquin Olivier seem and he had a great affection for Vivien. Vivien’s beauty is breathtaking even as she arrived at middle age. I was absolutely spellbound watching her in Gone with the wind which I first saw in London back in 1968.

  17. I just wanted to say that I loved every minute. Wonderful to see her great granddaughter. Absolutely thrilled. Thank you.

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