Film review: Back To Black

A turbulent take on the life and work of Amy Winehouse in a cautiously loving biopic.

Directed and produced by Sam Taylor Johnson from Studio Canal films who previously brought us ‘Legend’ and ‘The Virgin Suicides’ we see Amy Jade Winehouse in her later years  from around 2000 to 2011 of a once in a generation distinctive talent. From her signing to Island Records, to her tumultuously toxic relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil. ‘Back To Black’ to all intents and purposes is a fairy tale depiction. Although still dark in places, it’s a tale of a musical heroine who took no prisoners whilst writing about the turbulent world around her in her life that – in amongst the swearing – is dealt with actually quite sympathetically here.

With sets created by award winning artists Katie Spencer and Sarah Greenwood, whose last outing was to reimagine the vibrant ‘Barbie’ world, we get an idea what Sam T. Johnson wanted to illustrate here which is the love of Amy’s own much darker world and her music rather than the toxic hate brought on by her ultimately devastating and massively expensive drug use. From an amalgamation with set design of her two tiny flats made into one for film continuity in which she lived in and with her juke box containing handwritten track titles. Through to her larger yet emotionally empty Camden house in North London that saw her ultimate end of the Camden girl, all within a comparatively short period of time. The film also concentrates of course of her growth as a music writer and the life she lived to realise this and the hurt along the way of losing her Grandmother.

Starring Marisa Abela of the recent COBRA series and named ‘2023 Screen International Star of Tomorrow’ as Amy and Jack O’Connell as Blake from the recent BBC series SAS Rogue Heroes, a quite forgiving depiction of a convicted felon is portrayed here as a loveable rogue besotted with Amy but also feeling the need to return to his former – off camera – more stable girlfriend Becky played by Therica Wilson-Read (The Witcher). Also starring Lesley Manville as Cynthia Winehouse, Amy’s Grandmother and Eddie Marsan as Father Mitch Winehouse, the casting is solid but ultimately a crotch of course for our star to transition from a rounded unknown teenager of seventeen to a world-wide zero to hero story and back again all in just 10 years whilst also depicting her tragic weight loss.


With a glaring omission of music and album producer Mark Ronson – who had apparently read the script – was not required for the film to be complete. Although his work with her strongest album – selling 16 million copies worldwide – giving her multiple Grammy awards left a certain emptiness from a film named after her biggest and most famous work. Marisa worked with style and voice acting coach Sara Green for several months before filming began to immerse herself into the role of Amy which of course went through a mind as well as body transformation that is executed extremely well. From the young Amy born 18th September 1983 to her death on 23rd July 2011 aged just 27, the films outcome is always looking to that date which leaves an overall sombre feeling.

The portrayal by Marisa as Amy is extremely effective and lifelike to a point where the later years weighing just seven stone had to be engineered through a strict monitored diet to achieve close to those results through of course makeup as well to achieve the look. Requiring four separate coaches to achieve the quite accurate results of guitar as well as physical training; through to her vocal coaches for both Amy’s Camden sound and her singing give a great sense of her tumultuous life and on-stage presence. With several iconic songs allowed to be taken from the main album, musically this hits many of the big tracks which lifts this above that of an okay biopic. Also Filmed in Ronnie Scott’s for the greater atmosphere and sighting Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Lauren Hill as her music icons (who do not appear in the feature) the overall film experience was solid yet left many glaring gaps.

With the closing scene of Amy walking up her bright staircase in her ultimately lonely life, Back To Black rated 15 portrays Amy as an alcoholic but skips over the visual drug use costing her around £1million by making fleeting glances rather than going too deep.

Biopics are difficult to get right and Back To Black unfortunately misses too many vital areas.





Author: Piers, Maidstone Store

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