Back to Black | Picturehouse Recommends

Sam Taylor-Johnson paints an unmissable portrait of a tumultuous life in this ode to Amy Winehouse.

Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

10 Apr 24

Sam Taylor-Johnson

Release Date
12 April


Marisa Abela, Jack O'Connell, Lesley Manville, Eddie Marsan


Running Time
122 mins

At its big, tender heart, Sam Taylor-Johnson's Back to Black is a celebration of the genius that is Amy Winehouse.

The kind of emotional movie- going experience that needs to experienced with a big Picturehouse crowd, it looks to bring to life both the music – particularly the creation of her classic album, Back To Black, the soundtrack to all our break-ups, including such classics as 'Rehab' and 'Love Is A Losing Game' – and the woman behind the songs (and beneath the beehive).

It's an unmissable portrait of a tumultuous life, by turns chaotic, joyous and tragic, which doesn't pull its punches but promises a poignant, powerful, riveting tribute to one of the defining musical artists of the 21st century.

When it came to realising Winehouse's life on screen, Back To Black found its ideal visionary in Taylor-Johnson. Together with her Nowhere Boy screenwriter, Matt Greenhalgh (who also wrote the Ian Curtis biopic, Control), she was determined to tell the story authentically having lived and worked in Winehouse's home borough of Camden. "A few years later Amy wrote her searingly honest songs whilst living in Camden," she recalled. "Like with me, it became part of her DNA. I first saw her perform at a talent show at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho and it was immediately obvious she wasn't just 'talent'... she was genius."

Crucial to the whole enterprise was, of course, finding the perfect actress to embody Winehouse. As with her previous films Nowhere Boy (a biopic of the young John Lennon) and Fifty Shades Of Grey, which launched breakout stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Dakota Johnson respectively, director Sam Taylor-Johnson was keen to go for a relative unknown.

Aside from a small role in Barbie, Marisa Abela is a familiar face only if you watch HBO/BBC drama Industry. The Brighton-born 26-year-old certainly wasn't obvious casting as Amy Winehouse – until the she arrived at the audition.

"I turned on the camera, and she looks down the lens, and literally, we all just went, 'What?!'" Taylor-Wood recently told Empire magazine. "[Marisa] managed to just bring every fibre of her being in alignment with who Amy Winehouse was, and is, to many people. She just inhabited her."

The actress underwent an "Amy boot camp", involving guitar lessons, fitness training and two vocal coaches – one to pinpoint Winehouse's North London accent, the other for singing.

Having insisted she couldn't sing, Abela impressively performs all of Amy's songs on the soundtrack. Unlike some other recent biopics of Elvis and Bowie, the artist's music has been officially licensed for use in the film.

Co-starring alongside Abela is Jack O'Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil, Winehouse's on-off boyfriend/husband whose 2018 toxic yet passionate love affair fuelled Back To Black. And, rounding out the cast are two British acting legends: Lesley Manville as Winehouse's "Nan Cynthie" and Eddie Marsan as her father, Mitch.

Ultimately a talent of this magnitude can only be done justice by the big screen and Back To Black explores Winehouse's highs, lows, passions and creativity in the most cinematically vibrant, compelling way possible. "As a filmmaker, you can't really ask for more," Taylor-Johnson has said. "I am fully aware of the responsibility. With my writing collaborator – Matt Greenhalgh – I will create a movie that we will all love and cherish forever. Just like we do Amy." It seems that Winehouse's astonishing legacy is in safe hands.    Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

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Back to Black is in cinemas from 12 April Book Now!