The Amy Winehouse film Back to Black has an amazing lead performance

Precise News

Now she brings the two together in what’s easily her best work so far: an urgent, warm, heartfelt dramatisation, scripted by Matt Greenhalgh, of the life of Amy Winehouse, the brilliant London soul singer who died of alcohol poisoning at 27 in 2011.
It’s a movie with the simplicity, even the naivety, of a fan-tribute.
But there’s a thoroughly engaging and sweet-natured performance from Marisa Abela as Amy – though arguably taking the rougher edges off.
The only time Abela is less than persuasive is when she has to get into a fight on the north London streets of Camden.
And Jack O’Connell is a coolly charismatic and muscular presence as her no-good husband and addiction-enabler Blake Fielder-Civil.
There is a growing sadness in the realisation that this ecstatic first meeting is the first and last time they will ever be truly happy together.
But this film tries to intuit the part that romance played in Amy Winehouse’s life and the narrative of unhappiness that it created in her work: a poisonous wellspring of inspiration.
I actually wonder if an equally good film called Mitch could be made simply about that lonely, complex figure.

NEUTRAL

A Million Little pcs\., a 2019 film based on James Frey’s infamously fake memoir of addiction, was the last drug-related film directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Nowhere Boy, a 2009 film about John Lennon, was the last music legend film she had helmed.

With a script by Matt Greenhalgh, she now combines the two in what is unquestionably her best work to date: an intense, loving, and poignant dramatization of the life of Amy Winehouse, the talented London soul singer who passed away at the age of 27 in 2011 from alcohol poisoning. It’s a film that has the simplicity—even the naiveté—of a fan tribute. However, Marisa Abela gives a very charming and endearing performance as Amy, albeit one that may have trimmed some of the sharp edges. Only when she’s forced to engage in combat on the Camden streets of north London does Abela become less than convincing.

In addition, Jack O’Connell, who plays her bad husband and the person who supports her addiction, is a powerful, charismatic, and cool presence. The film makes the reasonable point that Blake was a human being who was afraid Amy would leave him for another celebrity and that media images are misleading. O’Connell, on the other hand, can’t help being a smart, capable screen presence and makes Blake a lot more sympathetic and less rodenty than he appeared in real life.

In a charming, if a little corny, scene, the already inebriated Blake meets Amy for the first time in The Good Mixer pub in Camden Town (which is already well-known for its affiliation with Blur and 90s cool Britannia). Blake is buzzing from his horse-racing winnings and appears unfazed when Amy challenges him to a game of pool, and he cheekily lets her (and us) assume he doesn’t know who she is. Naturally, he does, even surpassing her musical knowledge by making her confess that she has never heard the Shangri-Las song Leader of the Pack, which he plays on the jukebox and shows off his extravagant miming skills to. The realization that their joyful first meeting is the only and last opportunity they will have to experience true happiness together is causing them to grow increasingly depressed.

Any film about Winehouse may pale in comparison to Asif Kapadia’s gripping 2015 archive-mosaic documentary Amy, which not only presented the artist herself but also provided a more accurate understanding of her demanding musicianship and professionalism—far from the tabloid caricature of her constant drug use. However, this movie attempts to deduce the role that romance played in Amy Winehouse’s life and the unhappy story it inspired in her writing, viewing it as a toxic source of inspiration.

The movie directed by Taylor-Johnson also shows a lot more empathy for Winehouse’s father Mitch, the taxi driver who separated from Amy’s mother and returned to assist with career management, despite having a well-known history of discouraging her from entering rehab.

Here, Eddie Marsan plays Mitch with bullish charm and schmaltz, which makes him come across more positively. He’s especially funny in the scene where he angers Amy by showing up to a crucial meeting and supporting the record industry executives against her. It truly makes me wonder if Mitch, an equally excellent movie, could be made just about that complicated, lonely person.

There are other, harsher, bleaker ways to depict Winehouse’s life on screen, but Back to Black is essentially a gentle, forgiving movie. Abela, however, captures her tenderness and, perhaps most poignantly, her youth, which contrasts so tellingly with that tough image and unsettlingly mature voice.

scroll to top