The Color Purple review: "Treads a fine line between saccharine and crowd-pleasing"

 The color purple.
The color purple.

This latest adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning tale of an African-American girl’s coming of age in early 20th-century Georgia takes its cue not from the 1985 Steven Spielberg movie but the noughties Broadway musical. Making her screen debut, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominee Fantasia Barrino reprises her stage role as the abused Celie, whose only respite comes from her bond with sister Nellie (radiant Little Mermaid star Halle Bailey).

Celie is handed over to cruel farmer Mister (Colman Domingo) to care for his home and ungrateful brood, but a lifeline arrives in the form of jazz singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson). Although Mister is infatuated with Shug, she’s the one who helps set Celine on the path to sexual and spiritual empowerment.

Despite its cast’s myriad talents, 2023's The Color Purple (helmed by Blitz Bazawule, who co-directed Beyoncé’s Black is King) proves less impactful than its forerunners. Boasting spectacular choreography, it’s an utter feast for the eyes. But there’s often a disconnect between its harrowing subject matter and upbeat song and dance numbers.

The chemistry between Barrino and Henson is somewhat lacking, but Danielle Brooks (another Globe/BAFTA nominee) is formidable as Celie’s daughter-in-law Sofia (a role that previously bagged an Oscar nod for Oprah Winfrey, here one of the film’s producers, alongside Spielberg).

Meanwhile, the third act sees a series of redemption arcs come together in an overly neat way; the film treads a fine line between saccharine and crowd-pleasing, though there’s no doubt a few moments will elicit tears.

The Color Purple is in US theaters now and in UK cinemas from January 26.