I have a theory that the 2011 death of Amy Winehouse actually pierced the cynicism and malignant tabloid culture that dominated the 2000s and was one of the major fuels for the rapid social changes of the 2010s, particularly around women in media and how we talk about and treat famous women.
The loss of musicians often hits us most keenly because of how their art affects us so personally, and Amy Winehouse was one of those powerhouse musicians, a brilliant singer, performer, and lyricist. Her searing voice imprinted in our psyches, her lyrics cut us to the quick, and her performances were so memorable, people still rate them among the best live experiences to be had, even more than a decade on from her death.
So of course, someone wants to make a movie about her, especially now, within the context of looking back and seeing all the red flags ignored in favor of capitalizing on her personal problems for public profit. Back to Black is an upcoming biopic of Winehouse, starring Marisa Abela as the singer; Lesley Manville as her grandmother, Cynthia; Eddie Marsan as her father, Mitch; and Jack O’Connell as her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. The film is written by Matt Greenhalgh, who previously wrote Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson.
I want to give Taylor-Johnson the benefit of the doubt, because she was friends with Amy Winehouse, so surely, she would want to tell this story in a way that says something not only about Amy and her music, but the culture she impacted so greatly? Well, one hopes, but Taylor-Johnson also has the approval of Winehouse’s estate…which means she has the approval of Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father.
Letting Mitch Winehouse weigh in on his late daughter’s biopic would be like letting Jamie Spears have a say in a Britney biopic. If you’ve seen the 2015 Oscar-winning documentary Amy, you know the role Mitch played in enabling his daughter’s addiction. For the record, Mitch Winehouse HATES that documentary, probably because it fully implicates him in his daughter’s death. But he gave the Winehouse Estate Seal of Approval to Back to Black.
So what can we expect from the film? Well, the international teaser is big on Marisa Abela’s physical resemblance to Amy, and her rise to stardom. It’s light on the after, with only little flashes of paparazzi hounding her, but lots of Jack O’Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil. I am fully expecting this film to blame Fielder-Civil 100% for Amy’s problems and her death while absolving Mitch, particularly, of any share in the outcome. Biopics with the family estate involved are always a compromise, but THIS biopic with THIS family estate involved? Yeah, I’m not holding my breath. Back to Black is due out this spring. In the meantime, I recommend watching or revisiting Amy, which is streaming on Max and CBC’s Gem in Canada. Mitch Winehouse doesn’t deserve to have the final word on Amy’s legacy.