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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

Back To Black - It's not perfect but putting Amy Winehouse's music at the heart of of this film was the right choice.

3.5 out of 5

The poster proclaims that Marisa Abela is Amy Winehouse and there is simply no denying that. As biopics go, Marisa Abela has the looks, the attitude and an amazing voice that only the most astute of Amy Winehouse fans could find fault with. In short she is amazing in the role.

I think most of us will know the story of Amy Winehouse. She is a rebel, “likes bad-boys” and is blessed with an astounding voice. Guided by her ex-jazz-singing Nan (the always wonderful Lesley Manville) and her proud father Mitch (Eddie Marsan). Amy finds fame and fortune readily, neither of which she seems particularly interested in. What she does want is the love of her bad-boy friend Blake (Jack O’Connell) and to be a mother. But fame, drink and drugs keep screwing up her dreams. Along the way she bags five Grammy Awards for her efforts.

The film goes down the “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” route in having the film star do the singing (unlike the recent Bob Marley biopic “One Love” which used original tracks). And in this regard, Marisa Abela (who, apart from a bit-part in “Barbie”) smashes her role as Amy. Her vocal impersonations (she does all her own singing in the part) sound absolutely spot on to me. Although there are very occasional snatches of studio recording segments, the film wisely shows the songs in a live context which allows them to be slight ‘variants’ on the originals you know and love.

The film gives an interesting perspective on Winehouse. A lover of jazz music, she is seen as someone who seems to genuinely not relish either the fame or the associated wealth. Indeed, she walks away at one point to “do some more living” as input to her songs. She seems to have been genuinely unique in that regard.

When you have a tragic tale like this one, you are wondering (and in some cases fearing) how the finale is going to be portrayed. Just to say that this follows the “Elvis” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” approach by doing it with beauty and delicacy. It makes you suitably sad that such a vibrant and unique talent should exit the world at such a ridiculously young age (27).

I went into this film with some preconceptions about some of the characters in the drama – namely those of Mitch Winehouse (Eddie Marsan) and Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell). But came out a bit confused since both characters, although displaying their faults and failings, felt rather over-sanitised. Perhaps this sets a record straight? Or perhaps they were “technical consultants” and this is a bit of a whitewash job? The involvement, or lack thereof, of Amy’s mother Janis (Juliet Cowan) also confused me. She is there in the start of the film and then appears prominently at the end but is nowhere to be seen in the middle of the story. Did she make any efforts to try to keep her daughter on track? I’ve been told that I should watch the documentary “Amy” to get a different perspective on the story, and I will do that.

It’s yet another biopic about a tragic female solo artist. As for previous efforts (e.g. “Judy“; “I Wanna Dance With Somebody“, etc) it’s a tale that leaves you sad for the potential years of creativity that were lost. This is not the best biopic ever made. But its not the worst either. As a study of superb talent and flawed humanity, it's worth seeing.

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