Tina: No escaping the shadow of abuse in the Tina Turner story

Review: The super star’s heroic life story is retold in an engaging new documentary

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Director: Tina Turner, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Kurt Loder, Katori Hall, Erwin Bach, Carl Arrington, Jimmy Thomas, Le'Juene Fletcher, Rhonda Graam, Roger Davies, Terry Britten
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Dan Lindsay, T. J. Martin
Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins

Ike Turner casts a long shadow over this lively new portrait of Tina Turner. It’s an issue that never goes away for the subject, despite her mesmerising stage presence and many remarkable achievements.

Over the years, as this engaging documentary reveals, Turner talked to People Magazine and biographer Kurt Loder, hoping to put the horrific domestic abuse she suffered during her 16-year marriage to Ike behind her. But the story never disappears. Every journalist asks her, sometimes with painfully inappropriate jocularity, questions about her former husband.

“Where is Ike?” jokes the presenter of Hollywood Squares, at a moment when Tina Turner, struggling to raise four sons in the wake of her divorce, was taking every available gig – including Hollywood Squares – in order to survive.

That’s the contradiction at the heart of Tina. She, understandably, displays symptoms of PTSD on the many, many occasions when interviewers casually name-drop Ike. Conversely, that story has emboldened thousands of abused women for more than five decades. Oprah, introducing Tina Turner on to her show, shows bundles of letters from women responding to Tina’s story. Angela Bassett, who played Tina in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, notes how many people have come up to her over the years to thank her for that movie.

Turner’s appalling backstory inarguably amplifies her success. The adversity defines her triumph. In this spirit, she has described this film as a parallel story to her new Buddhist memoir, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good.

At 118 minutes, Tina – an old-fashioned marriage of talking heads and footage– is long for a music documentary. But there’s plenty to mull over, a fine array of contributors and wonderful archive material. Her comeback in the 1980s as an arena-filling rock star – Turner holds the Guinness World Record for the largest paying audience (180,000 in 1988) for a solo performer – was entirely unlikely. As she was fast approaching 50, one record company executive dismissed her with words that we would not wish to reprint here.

Working with manager Roger Davies, she transformed the unmemorable pop song What’s Love Got to Do with It? into a heavyweight power ballad. A weedy earlier recording by Bucks Fizz demonstrates the extent of the alchemy. A string of hits followed.

Turner’s second marriage, to Erwin Bach, ensures the film ends happily ever after. She and it deserve no less.