Film Review: Billie

Billie Holiday was one of the most influential singers of her generation. Working within the music industry for over twenty-five years, she had an iconic voice which was beloved by millions. Lady Day, as she was Christened by friend and collaborator Lester Young, began her career singing in nightclubs in Harlem. By the late 1930s and early 1940s she had become a renowned mainstream artist, worked with the likes of Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Teddy Wilson. However, her turbulent personal life often got in the way of her career.  

An abusive childhood gave way to an adult life which was decimated by drink and drug addictions, impacting on both her personal and professional life. During the 1970s, journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl recorded hours and hours of interviews with people in Holiday’s sphere. She died before being able to do anything with them. James Erskine’s new documentary Billie uses these tapes as a foundation to look at her career in the round.

What’s so striking about Erskine’s Billie is the choice to allow her story to be told through key testimonies. This elicits a picture of a deeply troubled and incredibly talented artist who wore her heart on her sleeve. We’re also treated to a lot of her music, which isn’t always the case in these kinds of films. Billie paints a fascinating picture of a singer whose off-stage antics often overshadowed such a unique voice.

Billie will be in select cinemas in Wales and Scotland and virtual cinema in England from 13th November and available digitally from 16th November on Amazon and iTunes. The film will also be at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 15th November.

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