The Rehab Queen: A review of 'Back to Black'

At a glance

  • "Back to Black" opens in cinemas on May 15, exclusively at Ayala Cinemas.

A scene from 'Back to Black' 

Amy Winehouse passed away in 2011 from alcohol poisoning. She was 27 years of age. A musical artist of undeniable gifts, she’ll forever be seen as a tragic figure hounded by controversy and poor decisions in love, life, and dependencies. There was talk of a film treatment for years, but that only happened this year when the family trust finally allowed an authorized one to be made. 

So here is the finished product, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Samantha comes full circle with this film, as she first burst on the cinema scene in 2009 with Nowhere Boy, a treatment on the young life of John Lennon. Her last 2019 film, A Million Little Pieces, was about addiction. Now she’s back with another music-related biopic, and the subject was cursed by addiction. 

Working from a Matt Greenhalgh screenplay, the film stars Marisa Abela as Amy, Jack O’Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil, Eddie Marsan as Amy’s father, Mitch, and Lesley Mannville as her grandmother and personal icon, Cynthia. At one level, it’s also the story of the making of Back to Black, her multi-Grammy award-winning album and her second studio album that cemented her contribution to the music industry. 

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The good news is that Marisa Adela throws herself into the role, does her singing, and faithfully mimics Winehouse. She captures the fragility beneath the tough exterior that Amy would project to the world. O’Connell gives Blake texture so he’s not just a villain in the piece, and Marsan is always dependable, so a sympathetic Mitch is created, even when he renders the famous decision of Amy not needing to enter rehab. And Lesley Mannville is as ethereal as Cynthia, connecting Amy to something more glamorous than their life in Camden Town. 


The film falters in the kid-glove approach to the demons of Amy’s life. There's too much restraint in this film for someone so scrutinized and pilloried in the press. The inner tension between the jazz singer meets rock star trajectory of Amy’s career and the role of addiction in the dysfunctional love story are always hinted at and form the narrative. Still, they don’t result in the spark we want and need to elevate this film to something more compelling.

It’s the first meeting between Amy and Blake that becomes the best-recreated scene - with the realization that while acting like he had no idea who she was, he had known all the time. Plus his introducing Amy to the Shangri-La’s Leader of the Pack. These high points of a film mean well but could have been stronger. Amy Winehouse deserves a film treatment, and Marisa Abelo is a revelation! 

"Back to Black" opens in cinemas on May 15, exclusively at Ayala Cinemas.