Sunday, 22 October 2017

THE BALLAD OF SHIRLEY COLLINS review



This new documentary follows folk singer Shirley Collins who, after an extended period of over 30 years where she would not and could not perform, attempts to find her voice.


For those in the know, Shirley Collins has a standing as one of the best voices of the new folk movement of the 1950s and 60s. Often performing with her older sister Dolly, she was known for her musical innovations within the folk scene, until 1980 where due to personal issues stemming from her husband leaving her for another woman, she found herself unable to sing.

Largely retreating from public life she has hardly sang since, but after celebrating her 80th birthday she decided to record a new album Lodestar, for which this film serves as an in depth behind the scenes document. To complete the story, actors have been employed to appear in mock 16mm footage and Hannah Arteton (sister of Gemma) provides narration from Shirley's diary entries and writings at the time of her rise.

Knowledge of obscure 50s and 60s folk singers is not necessary, as Shirley is a delightfully open lady who is happy to re-discover old personal letters and share her stories of travels to America whilst enjoying her semi-retirement in Sussex. It's clear from the many people who are happy to talk about her (comedian Stewart Lee pops up to ask her about the times she performed at The Troubadour in London) that she is truly adored among the folk music scene.

The personal issues that lead to her retreating from her life as a performer are handled openly and honestly, and whilst not incredibly dramatic, clearly still affect her deeply. The film also serves as a lesson to those who don't make the most of their god given talents, with scenes showing Shirley frustrated with the changes to her once youthful, soft voice, worried that her performances either aren't a true expression or are letting the songs down. On the contrary, her voice is delicately cracked, aged and honest, as is Shirley in this telling of her quaintly English story.

Verdict
3/5

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