WHAT I LIKED: Every character in The Colour Purple is a very different, interesting, multi-layered person. And yet, all are victims of some kind of suppression at some point in their lives, all deal with that in different ways, and all ultimately show a willing to rid themselves of their barriers and make a break for better. Those differences and fundamental similarities between the people on show here make for a very interesting film indeed, as that not only unlocks a whole range of thoroughly engaging characters, it also winds up a perfect portrait of the fact there are things binding every human in hardship together, no matter their differences.
The perfect example of that all-embracing nature of the narrative lies in the contrast between central character Celie (a young African-American woman suppressed at the hand of her husband) and her empowered sister-in-law Sofia who initially encourages Celie, but who then ends up in prison and as a slave to see those roles reversed. Similarly, Celie's husband is - whilst a horrible man - also a victim of heartbreak and of the wrath of his father, and in the end even he shows the capacity for change.
That's all very grounding stuff that breaks free from the black-and-white nature of so many character narratives, and in the end we can mostly credit Menno Meyjes' script there. However, the reason it's ultimately brought to life so well is because of the performances that shape those layered characters, as everyone here really does do an absolutely brilliant job - from the incredible, subtle physicality of Celie's Whoopi Goldberg, to the frightening and yet vulnerable husband character of Danny Glover.
There's one other important credit here though of course, and that's Steven Spielberg himself. He chose this project in a bid to prove himself to naysayers as a serious filmmaker at the time, and whist that wasn't necessary by my accounts, he not only clearly chooses the perfect script here; he also directs it very well indeed. Mostly this is because he confidently leaves the performances the room they deserve to develop these characters and deliver this story - lingering on expressions and brilliantly-executed dialogue just enough before editor Michael Khan cuts away. The film also packs quite a pace as it clips its way through swathes of people's lives, but it feels measured and assured as it gets everything it needs to across brilliantly. That's what happens when a great script and great filmmakers come together, and in the end here it makes the The Colour of Purple a successful and emotionally-affecting exploration of suppressed humanity.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Many have criticised Spielberg for not being the right match for this material due to his sentimentality, and I do share that view to some degree as some of the lighter moments here are a little goofy. Mostly though, the sentimentality doesn't actually come from Spielberg - in reality it comes from Quincy Jones' sweeping score, which is somewhat over-egged and detracting from the film rather too much at times.
VERDICT: A film about the things that both divide and bind a collection of suppressed people together, 'The Colour Purple' sees a great script brought to life by brilliant performances - and a director and editor confident enough to leave them to do the heavy lifting.