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Respect film review

Updated: Sep 15, 2021


Directed by: #LieslTommy

Film review by: Brian Penn

Respect (2021)

Future historians will revisit the life of Aretha Franklin and reach one simple conclusion; there will never be another Queen of Soul quite like the daughter of a Baptist Minister who sang at dinner parties as a 10 year old. True icons are increasingly difficult to find, and this film explains why we should cherish the rarity of such talent. Co-producer Jennifer Hudson is perfectly cast as Aretha with her impressively wide vocal range. No lip synching to an existing track is needed here; she gets as close as anyone could to the cadence of Aretha in her prime.

Like all biopics aspects of Aretha's life have been truncated, but an implied event puts a false spin on the narrative. With the focus on a controlling father and abusive husband it becomes a 'Me Too' type of story which doesn't always do justice to her achievements. Nevertheless, it ticks the major milestones including her emergence in gospel and role in the civil rights movement. Her early recording career with Columbia is well documented; as is her commercial breakthrough with Atlantic Records.

But it's her relationship with two men that dominate the storyline. Her father, the Reverend Clarence Franklin (Forest Whittaker) is a towering presence in her life. A contemporary of Martin Luther King, Franklin rides on the coat tails of his daughter's prodigious talent. Ted White (Marlon Wayans) is the smooth talking artist manager who slowly seduces then marries Aretha much to the consternation of her father. Whilst she was exploited by both men Aretha is painted as a victim and not the strong woman she became.

The set pieces come to the plot's rescue with a brilliant portrayal of how Aretha's biggest hits came about. The first sessions at Muscle Shoals positively drip with atmosphere as 'I never loved a man' slowly took shape. We see Aretha with her sisters Carolyn and Erma rehearsing at the piano as 'Respect' is transformed into an Aretha Franklin song. Visual sequencing adds real contrast as the picture switches from black and white to colour.

Interestingly, the film wraps in 1972 when Aretha was only 30. But it actually feels the right place to stop as Aretha finds peace and redemption with the release of her landmark gospel album 'Amazing Grace'. Jennifer Hudson delivers a showstopping performance equal to her Oscar winning turn as Effie in Dreamgirls. The four stars are for Hudson and an excellent soundtrack that easily cover any cracks left by the plot.


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