It’s hard to believe it now, but there was actually a time when people in cinemas saw the words “Introducing Whoopi Goldberg” flash up on screen. (Here I was thinking she’d been around for ever.) That time was 1985, and that film was The Color Purple.
You kind of know you’re in for a three-hankie ride, when within the first five minutes of a film, you’ve found out that the 14-year old African-American protagonist Celie (who is played as an adult by Whoopi) has had two kids by her father. When her father then promptly gives her away in marriage to a man who actually came round to marry her sister, you know things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
The film pretty much sets out from there to show how this woman bravely put up with a wife-beating, philandering husband, separation from her sister, no family to speak of, etc. for a period of many years. And finally, after 2 and a half hours, everything is drawn together, and all wrongs are righted.
My main beef with this film is that nearly every single male in the film is either a) adulterous, b) violent towards women, c) misogynistic or d) some combination of the above. Were there no decent African-American men in the early part of the 20th century? There may have been, but they’re nowhere in sight in this film (except perhaps the last 10 minutes, where a little bit of redemption is given, even to these creeps).
Instead, the women absolutely dominate this film (which, considering the state of the guys, is not that hard). The acting is top-notch, and I can certainly see why Whoopi rose to fame. She has to play a character who is introverted, withdrawn and completely shy, until the inevitable moment where she stands on her own two feet and takes her life back.
Overall, this is fairly standard weepie material, but the acting and Steven Spielberg’s direction (this was his first serious film) keep everything anchored and moving along. There’s a couple of scenes in there, which are done really well, and show Spielberg’s hand quite clearly. Certainly, the cinematography and scenery is outstanding.
But, ultimately, the film seems very long, and perhaps not for my half of the population. So I’ll give it 3 1/2 out of 5, but I’m sure there’ll be plenty to argue with me.