Back to Black – REVIEW

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Back to Black - How good is the Amy Winehouse bio-pic?

Membership of the 27 club, whose members included Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix was tragically increased by one when Amy Winehouse passed away at that age from alcohol poisoning. Like them her immense and deserved success was blighted by drink & drugs and Back to Black, her Emmy award winning album, an album with its all too honest and open lyrics, forms the backbone of the film of the same name.

The initially sweet natured North London Jewish girl is portrayed by Marisa Abela, here singing the songs herself in an uncannily accurate note perfect manner, is first seen in the bosom of her family with her much loved grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville) herself a nightclub singer from the 1950’s. But her parents are estranged and though she lives with her mother it’s her father Mitch (Eddie Marson) that features heavily in her life. Himself a frustrated club singer now a black cab driver his character, as written here is far more benign and sympathetic than the one the public knew. That he had an influence on the films production might have something to do with that.

Already a keen drinker she’s also independently minded unafraid to tell 19 Management, home of the Spice Girls, that she is no North London Soul Spice and when the company try to push her in a certain direction she tells them that she just won’t write songs to order, ‘I need to live my songs’ and that could not have been more true when it came to the Back to Black album that laid bare the downward trajectory in her life. And that seems due to having taken up with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) a wrong ‘un if ever there was one and yet here he’s part bad boy, part diamond geezer. She is besotted with him and his breaks up with her clearly impacted terribly on her psyche and yet instead the film goes for that easy target, the press and paparazzi, for her mental spiral into alcoholism and drug dependency. From the start her regular visit to tattoo parlours with each new etching on her body though making her look increasingly like the pad you keep at the side of the phone signified pivotal moments in her all too brief life.

Back to Black is the latest dramatization of a pop personality after documentaries have been made –  the decent ‘Whitney (Houston):Can I be me?’ preceded the poor bio-pic, ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ and like that this is yet another unnecessary drama after the quite brilliant 2015 documentary ‘Amy’ that was far more incisive and honest a portrayal of the singer and those around her. Like Houston, Winehouse downfall can arguably be attributed to significant male figures in her life and yet this ignores positive influences such as producer Mark Ronson who is granted a fleeting mention. Equally after two hours the story comes to an abrupt and perfunctory end with the staple favourite of the end card revealing the date and reason of her death.

Abela and O’Connell are very good as are Eddie Marsan and Lesley Manville but there’s a feeling that as good as they all are in their respective roles that have been written but this is not who these real life people really are or were in life.

related feature : The best and most disastrous films featuring a popstar…….

related feature : Noel Gallagher at the Oasis Knebworth 96 premiere is asked, ‘Will it ever happen again?’

Here’s the Back to Black trailer ……

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