‘Shirley’ Review.

Ruth Negga as Shirley

Last night BBC2 screened the much-anticipated biopic ‘Shirley’.  I was really looking forward to watching it as it looked great from the trailers I’d seen but I have to admit when it had finished I was very disappointed and started to think of anything positive I could say about it.

I will say that I did like the four main actors.  Ruth Negga was extremely good in what must have been a very difficult part to play.  She didn’t convince me that she was Shirley but to be honest I didn’t expect her to.  I have an instant dislike for anyone trying to be ‘Shirley’ that’s why I dislike these tributes acts so much!  Sorry I digress …. she did however have some of the hand movements but at times I didn’t understand what she said.  The Welsh accent was just too much.  As for Lesley Sharp and the two main male actors I really liked but then I had no-one to compare them with as I’ve never seen any clips of their characters in real life.

My main complaint is that it just did not flow at all.  It jumped from one scene to the next without any explanation of certain events that happened.  It went through time at breakneck speed that I found myself trying to catch my breath!  One minute she was at home with her mother and the next she was on the stairs crying that she couldn’t become a star as she had a baby.  Where did the baby come from?  There had been no mention previously.  To my mind the whole programme just jerked along.

I was pleased the issue of race was not made a big thing.  Only twice did it come into the play.  Once with the leaflet in Australia and secondly regarding the film ‘Oliver’.  Shirley has never made thing regarding her colour and it would have been wrong to give it prominence in this.

I wish there had been more singing (by the real Shirley) and unfortunately they cut the songs short which they did play.  Before I knew it the credits were rolling and I was left feeling very frustrated.  I know about Shirley.  I’ve followed her for many years but I couldn’t help feeling that if I didn’t I really wouldn’t be much wiser.

Later I watched the ‘slice’ from the Electric Proms and then ‘Imagine’.  Although I’ve seen them before I have to be honest and say they left me feeling much happier.

19 thoughts on “‘Shirley’ Review.”

  1. Excellent review, David, thank you. Those are much my feelings too. I am glad to say though that people who were not previously fans and didn’t know much about Shirley seem to have been mesmerised by Ruth Negga’s performance, have gone on to watch the Electric Proms and Imagine programmes and are now fans 🙂 This can only be a good thing. There were hundreds of tweets to this effect last night and Shirley Bassey was one of the top trends in the UK 🙂


  2. David I agree one hundred per cent with your review, I also have followed the great Diva since the end of tthe 50’s. and feel this programme did not do her justice at all, too many bits and pieces, and no joining up of the story. All the very best, Denis


  3. I agree with all that has been said.I was a little dissapointed at times with the flow,What i did feel was,when we heard Shirley sing, it all made sence of singing being her destiny,It made me feel great pride and also sadness at the same time.
    Some dates were wrong in the story.What did come across was that Shirley had great instinct,was very bright,and in those days in a world of men as bosses,Shirley had to be tough.
    A film of her life is needed !


  4. I agree with much that has been said. Perhaps though as converts we are too quick to criticise. The BBC have been running a series of these biopics in recent times – the one about Hattie Jaques was critically acclaimed, but if we knew as much about ‘Hat’ as we do about DSB, we most liikely would have been picking holes in the story, the timelines etc. And in any case of course, last nights film started with a BBC disclaimer!

    That said, I would agree that the film was too rushed – a two or three parter would have given much more time for plot and character development as well as perhaps enabling some fuller versions of the songs to be enjoyed. Given that whoever got the part was going to have difficulty, Ruth generally played a blinder, though I wasnt fully convinced with some of the vocal dubbing which at times seemed slightly off – somwehat in the style of old editions of Top of the Pops!

    Nitpicking department now – but wearing my railway hat. The diesel railcar that they travelled on was roughly right for the period – although it was a Midland rather that a Western Region one which would have been right for leaving Cardiff (the number on the outside began with M and not a W) albeit on a local service rather than a main line train to London. However, the red ‘Do not lean out of the Window’ sign over the carriage door was pure British Rail (70s/80s) and, sin of sins, the soundtrack had the puffing of a steam loco (which would have been right for Cardiff to London then) but with the diesel railcar interior scenes. Oh dear me. I blame the budget cuts!


  5. I really was disappointed. Maybe we expected too much of this biopic.
    What surprised me the most is that the film ended where it really began for DSB (as lond as he needs me) What about the real boost in her career “Goldfinger”. For those who do not know Shirley Bassey
    this wasn’t what it had to be. I just hope that they took the time to watch the “Proms” and “Imagine” so they had a better picture of the
    amazing uncomparable Shirley Bassey


  6. David agree also 100 % with your comments……I wonder what our Dame is thinking ….!She is so great !!!! I never saw her performancing live, I have as many dvd’s and cd’s as I can get, here in Miami, I hope that some day she is coming on tour, as I am a few years older that her,I ask her to hurry up……I have still hope that she will do so….Do you know someone close to her that can ask for her picture dedicated to me…….I deserved after so many years of being her devoted fan..
    Keep the good work, and thank you so much for the Blog. Diamonds are forever……. like friends, and FANS ,forever more.


  7. Given how quickly it came together and how little time there was to prepare for the role, I thought Ruth Negga was fantastic. “Shirley” was very entertaining. I am astounded that Ruth Negga knew so little about Bassey before getting the part because in some ways she really nailed her (and in other ways it was very Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest”). Overall though she was very impressive. Maybe they will be persuaded to do a part 2 that shows Bassey going to America and becoming a global superstar.


  8. Well. I just think Dame Shirley deserves better. I think it is great that BBC 2 recognizes how amazing Dame Shirley is, and have done a show, but she is a national treasure that should be showcased appropriately.
    I am glad that David B said that he could not understand Ruth Negga, because I could not either. I thought it was because I am American. I could barely make it out in the beginning.
    At any rate, I am still happy to have seen it. I did not really recognize any of the gestures or anything. She especialy did not have DSB’s confidence in her dresses. That was not a believable twirl in the mirror in the beginning.
    Long live Dame Shirley!




  10. It was a foregone conclusion that, if anyone was expecting a decent portrayal of what is quite simply the most enigmatic, charismatic and spine-tingling talent that is Dame Shirley Bassey. they would be vastly disappointed. I was not as, having seeing clips of the drama, knew exactly what to expect. Too full of cliches. It could have been made from a template. Fill in the gaps were you see the dotted lines. A brave attempt to go someway to show what Bassey went through to get to the top. In an hour and ten minutes? The only thing positive which came from this programme, for me, is to show to all the wannabes on X Factor, BGT etc. This is what fame is all about. Not a five minute slot on a crummy TV programme with some pratt waving a contract (pardon my French) but the hard slog of years of honing a talent.


  11. I first saw Shirley in concert in 1962…she said very little on stage,apart from introducing songs and thanking the audience,and always the orchestra.
    By the 70s Shirley was more relaxed,more into enjoying the experience along with the audience.
    The early Shirley was like an explosion on stage,and then she would sing something slow and haunting,we came away drained….like being in a dream,and for days after…flash backs !
    What I got from the play was Shirley,demanding the best from herself,and that has never left her….
    ps….1966…I got on stage and kissed the lady.. I walked to the side of the stage,was grabbed by 2 men !.within 30 seconds I was outside in an alley…. I remember Shirley,the black lace dress.and hearing her sing her last song As Long As He Needs Me.


  12. What about the songs? Some had Shirley’s real vocals. Some seemed to have the original (remixed) instrumentals and ‘This is my Life’, where the performance was obviously based on the San Remo Festival (see YouTube) had Shirley’s voice from a version I can not place. Anyone..?


  13. I have to agree with all that has been said, I awaited the programme with great anticipation, but by the end of it, I was a little unfulfilled. The main character was convincing enough, but it was too disjointed in its make up, and I feel that maybe, with hindsight from the makers of ;Shirley; that they could have done it better.
    The Imagine documentary with regards to the making of the new album was excellent. It offered an insight into how much work and effort the Dame puts into her work, and the final album was well worth the hard work.


  14. To joop…………..
    At the time of Shiley promoting ” This is My Life” there were a number of live recordings,some where she sang Lavita,one with backing singers,and mainly recorded in Italy.
    What we saw Ruth perform was indeed the Festival take where one could see Shirley was highly strung ,letting it all out !


  15. Negga did pretty well.

    Too, I didn’t know Shirley was one of seven (nine..) children pre-social security hand-outs, or was an unmarried mum facing a virgin-crazed 1950’s public, or that her husband was bi-sexual/gay, or that her mother encouraged her so much, or that her baby was raised by her sister while Shirley had to pretend to be her aunt or that it all got sorted out. Vitally, the programme spent time on depicting poverty.

    I’m old enough to remember the no-coloureds mindset, notably the Banana Boat Song was in a mild way a sort of gimmick that suited the era, when foreign things were pretty exotic.

    If she had wanted to she could have slapped an injunction on this. I thought it was good, considering how much info there was to cram into one evening’s worth. And Shirley’s honesty through song, as well as this programme, makes her so very loveable.

    I have read one biography of Shirley’s, but this told me somthing new.


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