GLASGOW-born director Kevin Macdonald continues to show off his ability to traverse fiction (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) and non-fiction (Marley, Touching the Void) storytelling, by delivering an absorbing, well-crafted documentary about the late, great Whitney Houston.

Whereas Nick Broomfield’s 2017 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me contained more footage of Houston singing, Macdonald’s film focuses more on her tumultuous personal life. Of course, her unbelievable voice is built into the fabric of her story, and there’s still plenty of that in there; the high notes of I Will Always Love You are given potency as the film puts things into personal and industry context.

Houston’s life story is traced from her ghetto childhood to being thrust into stardom and them her untimely death in 2012 at the age of only 48. She drowned after suffering a heart attack in a bathtub, a tragedy compounded by the fact that her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown later died in a eerily similar way.

The film is uncompromising but never obtrusive and will work just as well for ardent fans or more casual listeners, conveying both the joy and the tragedy of Houston’s life with equal and compelling power.

Macdonald uses the admiration for her musical talent as a baseline upon which to build an over-arching tale, assembling a group of interviewees from her nearest and dearest (including crucial figures such as her mother, Cissy Houston, and former husband Bobby Brown) to those who just worked with her (like her co-star in The Bodyguard, Kevin Costner) to tell her tale in the fullest way possible.

Much like Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary Amy, it is essentially a tale of a deeply talented and passionate music lover cut down before her time (because of industry pressures, familial expectations and dependencies, addiction and grief), but with plenty more to give if people were only willing to look beyond scandal.

This is a no-holds-barred documentary, leaving few uncomfortable stones unturned to paint us a picture of good and bad, shining light and crippling darkness. A gripping moment comes when Macdonald, off-camera, insists on talking about the drug use that ultimately killed Houston, with Brown retorting: “Drugs had nothing to do with her life.”

Deeply shocking revelations in the film’s haunting third act lifts it on to another level in terms of must-see cinema. Combine that with a kind-hearted sense of affection for Houston as a human being and a musical performer and it makes for an affecting, emotionally draining experience.

Due to its willingness to travel down the darker paths of her life, it is a documentary that showcases the fact that it is possible to be respectful and celebratory about a legend without resorting to easy hagiography.