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Stars: Jennifer Hudson, Marlon Wayans, Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Hailey Kilgore, Saycon Sengbloh, Tate Donovan, Kimberly Scott, Mary J Blige

Director: Liesl Tommy

This story of the troubled early life of the 'queen of soul', Aretha Franklin, has received some scathing Stateside reviews - but, c'mon, guys, it's not that bad.

What we do have here is an overblown musical biopic in retro style. The first half, though, is really rather good, beginning its narrative in 1951, when Aretha, already a local favourite for her gospel singing, is raped by a family friend when not quite 11.

She has the baby, although the traumatic event haunts her relationships with her long-left-home mother, her singing sisters and her controlling father (Whitaker), as she lands a recording contract at 17 and marries a ne'er-do-well (Wayans) to whom she returns even after he beats her, in a partnership partly responsible for her later descent into alcoholism.

Hudson sings her lungs out as Aretha (Ree-Ree to friends and family), although her acting isn't on the same level, her whispered dialogue being sometimes difficult to catch. And the decently-done movie, whose timeline is a trifle woozy, just doesn't pack the emotional wallop of such biopics as, say, Ray or Tina: What's Love Got to Do With It.

Involving up to a point, it does do on a bit just before and some time after the death of Martin Luther King. If you like Aretha, though, you may find the heartfelt songs make it all worthwhile.

David Quinlan

USA 2021. UK Distributor: Universal (Metro Goldwyn Mayer). Colour by Company 3.
144 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 07 Sep 2021