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Amy Winehouse gets a mostly disappointing yet surprisingly entertaining biopic in Back to Black even if the engaging lead actress Marisa Abela can’t quite overcome the rushed clichés.

I never had high hopes that Back to Black could top the touching, emotional and insightful – not to mention: Oscar-winning – 2015 documentary Amy but at least I expected the film to be a true warts-and-all look at the life of troubled singer Amy Winehouse.

So you can understand my surprise seeing the picture deliver something more akin to a nuance-free Broadway musical fantasy, where Winehouse is a frank, big-dreaming teen in act one and a boozing, drug-using star, hounded by the press in act two.

That director Sam Taylor-Johnson lets you swallow this crucial transition in one four-minute montage, sapping credibility completely and depriving the audience of the emotional journey Winehouse must have gone through is Back to Black’s cardinal sin, closely followed by the hagiographic approach the family-condoned movie takes.

Lead actress Marisa Abela deserves better than that: her singing voice mimics Amy Winehouse admirably and in the ‘innocent’ first half of the movie she is simply wonderful. Unfortunately, once she has transformed in the perpetually drunk singer we know from the tabloids in Back to Black’s second half Abela is dragged down by the pantomime surrounding her.

So I am harsh on the picture – and rightfully so, because Back to Black is not a good movie by a long stretch – but somehow I cannot condemn it outright to bad film territory. I was entertained by it – for better or worse – and of course any undercooked film is made better immediately by Amy Winehouse’s timeless songs on the soundtrack.

release: 2024

director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

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


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