Run time: 94 mins
A detonation of pure acting firepower is what’s on offer in this movie version of August Wilson’s 1982 stage play. It is ferociously intelligent and violently focused; an opera of passion and pain.
We’re in Chicago in the summer of 1927. Ma (the fab Viola Davis) has come to town to cut a record, including the raunchy signature number, hence the film’s title. In hush-hush consultation with the label’s owner, trumpeteer Levee (Chadwick Boseman) has come up with a snappy new arrangement which he believes could transform the song into a significant popular hit. But his older, more experienced bandmates aren’t convinced the redoubtable Ma will roll over for this skinny, shiny-shoed little upstart, when she eventually deigns to arrive.
The stage is set. Yet in the long history of theatrical adaptations, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is that rare and cherishable movie that feels like one. Something much, much more than filmed theatre.
Whether or not Boseman knew it would be his last performance, he gave it his All.
And what ALL it is. It is unquestionably his finest, crackling with passion, intelligence and anger, and delivered with a magnetising ferocious grace. (Jack Whiting) Fantasic. In true Berkhamsted jive: ‘Come grind them seats baby…’