Back to Black review: Amy Winehouse biopic buoyed by extraordinary lead performance back to Black

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TeaThe last time Sam Taylor-Johnson directed a movie about drugs was 2019’s A Million Little Pieces, based on James Fry’s notoriously unoriginal memoir of addiction — and the last time he directed one When a film was made about the music legend, it was Nowhere Boy in 2009. about john lennon

Now she brings the two together in her best work to date: a memoir written by Matt Greenhalgh about the life of the illustrious London singer Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at the age of 27. Urgent, warm, heartfelt drama. It’s a film that has the simplicity, even naïveté, of a fan-homage. But there’s a very charming and sweet-natured performance from Marisa Abela as Amy – though arguably the harder edges have been stripped away. The only time when Abella’s efforts to convince him fall short is when he has to engage in a fight on the streets of Camden, North London.

And Jack O’Connell is a quietly charismatic and empowering presence as her well-meaning husband and addiction-capable Blake Fielder-Civil. O’Connell can’t help being a smart, capable screen presence and makes Blake much more sympathetic and less rodent than he appears in real life – and yet part of the (fair) point of the film is that. He was a human being, afraid that Amy would leave him for another celebrity, and that media images are misleading.

There’s a lovely, albeit slightly sugary scene in which an already drunk Blake meets Amy for the first time in The Good Mixer pub in Camden Town (already famous for its association with 90s Britannia and Blur. is) – buzzing with excitement from his horse-racing victory and not surprised when the already charmed Amy challenges him to a game of pool, while he humorously lets her (and us) assume that he Don’t know who he is. But of course he does and even by forcing her to admit that she’s never heard of the Shangri-Las’ Leader of the Pack, or make a dent in her musical knowledge of him, -One, which he puts on the jukebox and mimes extravagantly. Sadness grows in the realization that this passionate first meeting is the first and last time they will be truly happy together.

Marisa Abela and Jack O’Connell as Amy and Blake in Back to Black. Photograph: Landmark Media/ Alamy

Perhaps any film about Winehouse is going to suffer compared to Asif Kapadia’s compelling 2015 archive-mosaic documentary Amy, which offered a glimpse into the woman herself and, at the same time, away from the tabloid caricature of nonstop draginess, her music and professionalism. Gave a clear idea of ​​the demand. But the film tries to understand the role of romance in Amy Winehouse’s life and the unhappiness it created in her work: a poisonous source of inspiration.

And Taylor-Johnson’s film is also more sympathetic to Winehouse’s father Mitch, an estranged cab driver from Amy’s mother who came back into her life to help her manage her career and took her to rehab. Famously advised against.

Eddie Marsan and Lesley Manville in Back to Black. Photograph: Landmark Media/ Alamy

Mitch seems better here because Eddie Marsan plays him with increasingly charming charm and schmaltz – very funny in a scene where he enrages Amy by turning up at an important meeting and taking the record business executives’ side against her. I really wonder if an equally good movie could be made about that lonely, complicated man named Mitch.

Back to Black is essentially a gentle, forgiving film and there are other, tougher, bleaker ways of presenting Winehouse’s life on screen – but Abella conveys her tenderness, and perhaps most poignantly, in all of her youth. That contrasts very clearly with that tough image and extremely mature voice.

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