Black to whitewash

Will Ferris
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Back to Black (15, 122 minutes)

Sheer talent has never been so undeniable than in the case of Amy Winehouse. She was a sensation. A true star in every sense of the word, despite never wanting to be labelled as such. “I don’t think I could handle fame. I think I would go mad. It’s a scary thing” she once said.

So haunting a statement to look back on when you consider we now live in a world without her. As one of the most successful artists in the British music industry, her story is inspiring and deeply tragic.

Dramatising that was always going to ruffle some feathers, pose difficult questions about taste and feed into the argument of how you present the story of a young woman who passed away before her time with so much still to give and experience.

Sadly, with director Sam Taylor-Johnson at the helm, what should be a deep dive into Winehouse’s musical gifts is instead a quick browse through her wikipedia page.

Whilst Marisa Abela is a strong actress, her performance as the singer could be mistaken for someone you might come across at a fancy dress party – huge wig, dark eyeshadow and tattoos drawn on their arms with felt tips.

However, she certainly captures the mannerisms and is an entertaining talent to watch. But Amy’s vulnerability contrasted with her loud-mouthed, unfiltered personality so brilliantly captured in Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary, is missing here.

Though her close bond with grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville) does prove to be the film’s strongest point, the rest of the script lacks depth, whizzing through the highlights of the singer’s life without any true commitment to or understanding of the sensitivity required.

What is disturbing are the portrayals of husband Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) and dad Mitch (Eddie Marsan). There are many strong opinions about their involvements in Amy’s downward spiral and whilst an entire thesis on the matter could be written, let us simply say that the two men get off light in comparison to the deep dive filmmaker Kapadia took in his documentary, something Mitch described as “representing me in not a very good way”.

If he was concerned about being perceived as a villain back then, he can breathe a sigh of relief now, for Taylor-Johnson’s dramatisation.

When families of deceased stars, understandably, want to get involved in the development process, they often run roughshod and risk making a film look like one huge whitewash.

On that charge, Back to Black is guilty and it’s Amy who pays the price for the sake of polishing the reputations of some arguably unsavoury individuals.

Fielder-Civil has been on record admitting to introducing his ex-wife to heroin, but distances himself from the suggestion that he was emotionally manipulative or contributed to her death. During their marriage, there were many headlines about the febrile nature of their codependency, which included self-harm, and hard-hitting accounts from Amy’s close circle of friends who felt Fielder-Civil’s influence had a deeply negative effect on her life – their messy divorce in particular.

Outrageously, important figures in her life like Mark Ronson and other friends who have, for years, provided an insightful picture into the singer’s troubles are completely erased from Back to Black.

Amy won five grammys in one night and yet Taylor-Johnson feels more inclined to force an angle on her being mad about a boy in this puzzlingly weak, vapid and forgettable film. Lucky for its creators, Abela and the music throughout stops it from sinking, but one can’t help but feel Amy would find the whole thing mortifying.

RATING: 2/10