Back to Black

Verdict: Sam Taylor-Johnson's biopic doesn't treat Amy Winehouse with as much respect as it thinks it does

  • Marisa Abela, Eddie Marsan, Lesley Manville, Jack O'Connell
  • April 12th 2024
  • Sam Taylor-Johnson

Marisa Abela plays late British singer Amy Winehouse in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s biopic.

The Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black has been heavily criticised and ridiculed in the lead-up to its release.

Some fans of the singer, who died in 2011, thought it was being made too soon after her death, while others complained about Marisa Abela’s casting as Winehouse. Now the film is finally upon us, people can make their own informed opinions about the biographical drama.

This biopic, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, follows the usual trajectory – it charts Winehouse’s rise to fame, her tumultuous marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell), her substance abuse problems and personal downfall.

There are many problems with Back to Black but the biggest is that it doesn’t celebrate Winehouse’s musical legacy enough. A lot of her major career moments (except her Grammy sweep) happen off-screen so you never really get a sense of her growing success and fame besides the paparazzi outside her house. You barely see her making or releasing her albums, Frank and Back to Black, and we don’t hear some of her tracks, like You Know I’m No Good.

Her career is side-lined in favour of her personal troubles. One film can’t cover everything adequately but there should have been a better balance between the professional and private aspects of her life.

In an effort to save time, or to be forgiving to its subject, some moments are sanitised or glossed over or there are strange jumps in time. For example, Winehouse goes from casually smoking pot to doing substantially harder drugs in no time at all, even though she was vocally opposed to them.

The script, written by Matt Greenhalgh, also reduces Winehouse down to a 2D stereotype. Towards the end, it suggests that she’s helplessly lonely without Fielder-Civil or any kids, totally ignoring the fact she was dating Reg Traviss at the time. Plus, it seems to treat her more harshly than Fielder-Civil and Winehouse’s father Mitch (Eddie Marsan), who come out of this suspiciously well.

Thankfully, Abela cannot be faulted for her performance. Sure, she doesn’t look or sound 100% like the singer, but it’s not too far off. In fact, her vocals were so similar that they used her voice instead of Winehouse’s recordings! She sounds enough like her for audiences to suspend their disbelief and the hair, make-up and costumes make up for the rest with detailed recreations of Winehouse’s classic look.

Back to Black unfortunately doesn’t treat its subject with as much respect as it thinks it does. For the definitive film on Winehouse, maybe watch the 2015 documentary Amy instead.

In cinemas on Friday 12th April.

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