THANK the Lord, the full gospel glory of Aretha Franklin in Amazing Grace has finally made it to the screen, 47 years later than first planned.

A combination of technical glitches and legal hitches had prevented the release of Sydney Pollack’s film, although the album whose January 1972 recording sessions he was filming nevertheless became the best-selling gospel album of all time.

Now, in the wake of Lady Soul’s death last year, Amazing Grace undergoes a resurrection, a transformation into a eulogy, with digital advances enabling the synchronicity of sound and vision to be restored, courtesy of producer Alan Elliot.

The album was recorded live in an over-brightly lit, surprisingly compact New Temple Missionary Baptist church in Los Angeles over two nights in the presence of an increasingly fervent congregation on impromptu cinema seats, joined by a host of 16mm cameramen, stills photographers, Pollack directing operations, and one Mick Jagger (plus Charlie Watts) spotted at the back on the second night.

Aretha, 29 at the time, is quiet, concentrated, often singing with eyes shut at the piano or more often from the pulpit, on those sweaty, hot, ecstatic nights. But then she is respectfully treating them as a service, rather than a concert, for all the theatricality of pianist-minister Reverend James Cleveland, a kind of Barry White of gospel.

The Southern California Gospel Choir, in dazzling silver waistcoats that must have added to the church’s angelic brightness, start seated but feel compelled to leap to their feet in Amazing Grace itself, their religious fervour uncontained.

When Aretha’s father, the Reverend C L Franklin, wipes away the beads of sweat from his daughter, you will feel the tears welling, like the Rev Cleveland, by now overcome by Aretha’s wondrous voice.

Charles Hutchinson