Though 2015 blessed us with Asif Kapadia’s heartwrenching and Oscar-winning documentary Amy, it’s somewhat surprising that it took eight years for someone to jump on a biopic about the British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse.
But the time has finally come—a biopic, titled Back to Black after Winehouse’s most popular album, is now officially in the works. It even has a lead, BBC’s Industry star Marisa Abela, whose transformation into the singer was revealed in a first look on Friday 13 January 2023. Though Winehouse’s iconic beehive and heavy-winged eyeliner are definitely a staple of Abela’s character, since production for the movie has begun in London, the internet has made it its sole purpose to criticise every aspect of it.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of why fans are already saying “no, no, no” to Back to Black, let’s take a look at what you should expect from the upcoming film.
Partnering with Focus Features and Monumental Pictures, distribution company Studio Canal has officially stated that filming started on Monday 16 January in the UK capital. Back to Black will be directed by British filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson—aka Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s wife, who she allegedly first met on the set of the 2009 film Nowhere Boy when Aaron was only 18 and Sam, 42. But we’ll get back to that point later.
Taylor-Johnson will be reuniting with writer Matt Greenhalgh, with whom she also collaborated on Nowhere Boy, which was another biopic of an iconic musical legend who died too soon, John Lennon. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Winehouse, who struggled with substance abuse both before and after her career blossomed, was found dead on 23 July 2011 from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 at her home in Camden, North London.
Now, onto Abela’s role—the first major lead for the young British actress. Apart from playing the ambitious intern Yasmin in Industry, Abela will next be seen in Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated Barbie, set to come out this summer.
As noted by Harper’s Bazaar, “crucially, she is also, like Winehouse, of Jewish descent—something the production team will likely have looked for—and she also has musical experience.” The 26-year-old, who only graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 2019, recently confirmed that she will be playing Winehouse on her Instagram with a photo of her posing in front of a mural of the singer in Camden.
Though it’s almost been confirmed that Back to Black will cover Winehouse’s beginnings in Camden, her rise through the city’s jazz club scene, her early success with Frank as well as the stratospheric heights she reached with her second album, it’s yet to be confirmed whether or not the biopic will also reflect on the darker and more sinister aspects of her life, those that ultimately led to her tragically early death. One can only imagine that it will, at least for some part, with the omission of the many controversies surrounding Winehouse’s father, Mitch.
Speaking about how dear this project is to her, Taylor-Johnson said: “My connection to Amy began when I left college and was hanging out in the creatively diverse London borough of Camden. I got a job at the legendary KOKO Club, and I can still breathe every market stall, vintage shop and street. I first saw her perform at a talent show at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and it was immediately obvious she wasn’t just ‘talent’… she was genius. As a filmmaker, you can’t really ask for more.”
She went on to add, “I am fully aware of the responsibility, and with my writing collaborator—Matt Greenhalgh—I will create a movie that we will all love and cherish forever. Just like we do Amy.” And boy is the pressure on!
On Twitter, among countless tweets criticising the filmmaker’s 23-year age gap with her husband and the actor’s age when they first got involved, fans of the late singer can be found speaking up about how wrong “capitalising off” Winehouse’s traumatic time in the spotlight feels.
Meanwhile on TikTok, users have been quick to highlight the current lack of originality in the movie industry—you’re telling me we’re about to get another Elvis biopic?—and went as far as to compare Abela’s Winehouse wardrobe to a cheap SHEIN knock-off…