Back To Black trailer teases the triumph and tragedy of Amy Winehouse

Marisa Abela in Back To Black
Marisa Abela in Back To Black
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Anything to do with Amy Winehouse is bound to receive a lot of attention. In life, she was hounded by the voyeuristic media; in death, she’s become an icon whose short career has been the subject of articles, documentaries, and general fan devotion. It’s completely unsurprising that we’d end up with a fictionalized version like Back To Black, the Sam Taylor-Johnson-directed biopic premiering May 17. Maybe it’s only surprising that a film like this hasn’t come around sooner.

Back To Black is about “The extraordinary story of Amy Winehouse’s early rise to fame from her early days in Camden through the making of her groundbreaking album, Back to Black that catapulted Winehouse to global fame,” per the film’s synopsis. “Told through Amy’s eyes and inspired by her deeply personal lyrics, the film explores and embraces the many layers of the iconic artist and the tumultuous love story at the center of one of the most legendary albums of all time.”

The trailer depicts Winehouse (played by Industry’s Marisa Abela) as somewhat confused about what she wants. She’s equally passionate about her music as she is about her “bad boy” husband, Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell). The tension between those two warring impulses fuels the creative process behind the Back To Black album, ultimately sending Winehouse on a stratospheric rise to fame that comes at great personal cost. The film alternates between Winehouse’s actual vocals (on her songs) with Abela’s: “I don’t write songs to be famous,” she says. “I write songs because I’ve got to make something good out of something bad.” (A slight tweak on the same line that appeared in the teaser, for those of you playing along at home.)

Back To Black was immediately controversial from the moment it was first announced. In a culture that has recently reckoned with its own treatment of exploited female stars (even if it hasn’t fully resolved the issue of exploitation), there are many who feel protective of Winehouse and her legacy. Further, the involvement of her father, Mitch Winehouse—who is depicted in the documentary Amy as one of the figures exploiting his daughter—turned many fans against the project. Writing for The Guardian in January 2023, Shaad D’Souza observed that “it had begun to feel as if she was finally being remembered not as a purely tragic figure but as a generational talent who released two cherished records—and someone who wasn’t purely self-destructive, but a victim of systematic abuse and mental illness. Back to Black threatens not to honor that legacy, but to revive all the demeaning noise that obscured it in the first place.”

Taylor-Johnson has professed her own loyalty to Winehouse’s legacy, releasing a statement last year (via Rolling Stone) saying, “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… A few years later Amy wrote her searingly honest songs whilst living in Camden. Like with me, it became part of her DNA. 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.”

The director, who re-teamed with screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (the scribe behind her John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy), added, “As a filmmaker you can’t really ask for more. I feel excited and humbled to have this opportunity to realise Amy’s beautifully unique and tragic story to cinema accompanied by the most important part of her legacy—her music. I am fully aware of the responsibility, with my writing collaborator—Matt Greenhalgh—I will create a movie that we will all love and cherish forever. Just like we do Amy.”

Back To Black also stars Eddie Marsan as Mitch, Julie Cowan as the singer’s mother Janis, Jeff Thomas Tunke as producer Mark Ronson, and Lesley Manville as Winehouse’s beloved grandmother Cynthia.