Tina turner documentary – 70 OUT OF 100

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We all know or think we already know the story of Tina Turner.

We’ve read the book, heard the interviews and watched the biopic. So, the challenge facing Tina, a theatrical documentary release to be shown in the UK on Sky, is how to reveal or bring something new to the life and times of the legendary rock star. Coming from Lightbox, the Academy Award production team behind projects such as Hip Hop Uncovered and Whitney, Tina is split across five chapters.

Promising to ‘tell the full story – for the first time – of global icon and undisputed Queen of Rock and Roll’ it charts Turner’s life from her humble beginnings as a daughter of cotton sharecroppers to global superstardom. The documentary is packed with never-seen-before footage, candid home videos and photos as well as contributions from famous friends (Oprah, Angela Bassett), colleagues and family members.

Opening at her height of fame, we see the incarnation of the Tina Turner we remember most. Playing to a sell-out arena, strutting across the stage, dripping in sweat. The endless legs, the mane of hair, and all-conquering attitude while a 100,00 strong crowd shouts her name. But off-screen we hear an old audio excerpt of her unpacking the sad truth that hers, ‘wasn’t a good life‘ and more unhappily, ‘the goodness didn’t balance the bad’. This opening salvo sets the tone for the first half of the documentary. 

For with any retelling of Turner’s life the shadow of ex-husband, Ike Turner looms large. Running at over 1 hour and 53 minutes the first hour of the documentary relives the well-tread story of Ike’s control over his then wife’s personal and professional life as he changed from being her mentor to her tormentor. First revealed in a 1981 interview with People Magazine, and then again in her biography I, Tina’ the singer hoped that by setting the record straight about the abuse she suffered she would finally be allowed to extricate herself from the past. “After all the success that I’m having why are they still talking about Ike and Tina?” she asks. But at a press conference in 1993 for the Venice Film Festival premiere of What’s Love Got to Do With It Turner still had to explain “I haven’t seen the film… the story was written so I would no longer have to discuss the issues”. But the release and success of the film cemented Ike’s story to hers forever.

The most revelatory moments of Tina come when we get to discover the icon’s life before and after Ike. We learn that hardship and violence played a part in the young Anna Mae Bullock’s existence before Ike even entered the story. An archive interview with Tina’s mother Zelma who abandoned her as a child, tells of their cold and complicated relationship. ‘I’ve been proud of her ever since she started selling’, she retorts calculatedly. From a young age, Turner had no one to rely on but herself to survive, “Look what I have done in this lifetime with this body,” she rightly boasts.  The film however really hits its stride when it recounts the star’s rise-from-the-ashes success in the 1980s. Away from Ike, she took the song What’s Love, first recorded by British pop group Bucks Fizz and made it a number one hit at the age of 44, before going on to set the Guinness World Record for selling more concert tickets than any solo performer in history.

Interspersed throughout Tina we’re introduced to the present-day version of the diva; sharply and solemnly suited in all black. The decade-defying cheekbones and red lips are still in effect. In that familiar raspy drawl, she concludes, ‘I had an abusive life, there’s no other way to tell the story. It’s a reality, a truth so you have to accept it.’

Turner announced her retirement in 2007 and with this documentary and the 2019 Broadway musical stage show of the same name, she takes her final bow. In a career that has spanned more than 60 years, 12 Grammy wins and 200 million records sales with this particular insight into her life, we’re left feeling that Tina finally escaped her past.

TINA airs 27th March at 9:00PM on Sky Documentaries and NOW TV

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