For anyone who witnessed her tumultuous rise to fame and eventual fall from grace, it’s clear that Amy Winehouse was truly one of a kind. A diamond in the rough that not only needed to be handled with kid gloves, but one who also craved love and attention from all the wrong people. Her sudden death at the age of 27 in the summer of 2011, while not entirely unexpected, was still a huge shock for most of us.

The story of how a bright and talented nice Jewish girl from North London became prime tabloid fodder and a global superstar, is told with a fair amount of contrivance in this slightly disjointed biopic from Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson.

Starring Marisa Abela (Industry) as Amy, Back To Black – the title taken from one of the singer’s most iconic singles and album – focuses the bulk of its narrative on the chaotic relationship between Winehouse and former husband Blake Fielder-Civil.

Like with most artist estate-approved biopics – Amy’s parents Mitch and Janis worked closely with Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh and were even in attendance during the film’s London premiere – Back To Black appears to absolve her own family from any wrongdoing, preferring to lay blame on the tabloids instead. Mitch (played rather beautifully by Eddie Marsan) is portrayed as both doting and nurturing throughout, which is in direct contrast with the way he was portrayed in Asif Kapadia’s brilliantly executed 2015 documentary, Amy.

Still, Back to Black is often saved by an impressively precise performance from Abela, who delivers each and every single line as if her life depended on it. Abela manages to convey the singer’s vulnerability and trademark Cockney drawl while avoiding the temptation to mimic or ape her subject matter.

Elsewhere, Lesley Manville (Another Year, Phantom Thread, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris) is phenomenal in the role of Amy’s grandmother Cynthia, while the usually great Juliet Cowan is hugely let down by a screenplay that often seems to forget her existence altogether. For his part, Jack O’Connell does a great job as Fielder-Civil, even if the character is often let down by a flimsily put together screenplay.

Back to Black’s biggest problem resides in the fact that we all knew and loved Amy – even those of us who knew her life only through the tabloids – and witnessed first-hand her painful descent into addiction and mental health struggles. Maybe her story could have benefited from a bit of distance, because frankly, 13 years is just not long enough.

Back To Black
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Linda Marric
Linda Marric is a senior film critic and the newly appointed Reviews Editor for HeyUGuys. She has written extensively about film and TV over the last decade. After graduating with a degree in Film Studies from King's College London, she has worked in post-production on a number of film projects and other film related roles. She has a huge passion for intelligent Scifi movies and is never put off by the prospect of a romantic comedy. Favourite movie: Brazil.
back-to-black-reviewA strong cast, in particular a stirring performance from Marisa Abela, is not enough to effectively convey the chaos and the tragedy central to the story of such a beloved artist.