Respect: spark and soul lacking in Queen of Soul biopic

Respect, (12a), (145 minutes), Cineworld Cinemas.

Saturday, 11th September 2021, 6:05 am

Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody were rock biopics filled with endless wit and imagination.

Sadly, you couldn’t possibly say the same about Respect which in comparison seems rather laboured and pedestrian.

And it really oughtn’t to be.

It’s not as if Aretha Franklin's life was any less interesting than Elt’s or Freddie’s. In fact, it was every bit as remarkable, maybe more so given all that was stacked up against her: the tale of little girl singing in church who made her way through to superstardom as the Queen of Soul.

But frustratingly, there’s something lacking here. Soul, most probably. And spark.

The result is a tale which even starts to seem just a little bit cliched as Aretha slowly but surely ticks off all the superstar troubles that are apparently part and parcel of superstardom.

There a distinctly dodgy creepy dad who hovers somewhere between ghastly and slightly pitiful; there’s the tragedy of a mother lost too young; there is the awfulness of an abusive husband Aretha sticks with way beyond his sell-by date; and there is the inevitable battle with the booze.

And then, of course – and this is where the film is at its dullest – there’s the long, long wait for Aretha to find out just who she is (though she soon forgets) so she can make her big breakthrough with the title song of the movie.

Jennifer Hudson clearly gives it her all as Franklin, and it’s a hugely impressive performance, but does she truly convince? No, not really. Maybe the film is just too long, half an hour at least. The length certainly contributes to the impression that it’s meticulous rather than inspired, that it mostly plods when it really ought to be soaring.

And that’s a big shame – given the monumental effort that has clearly gone into it. The trouble is: less would almost certainly have been more here. And it certainly doesn’t leave us on the uplifting high it probably thinks it does.