Back to Black Film Review: Amy Winehouse biopic brings the iconic singer back to life but falls short of its huge potential

If you’re going to see the new Amy Winehouse film, it may as well be at Dendy Cinemas Newtown. Brimming with character and delightfully grungy, Newtown is by far the closest thing Sydney has to Winehouse’s beloved Camden Town. 

There are countless places like Belly Bao, Calle Rey, and The Newtown Hotel nearby where you can grab a meal or a quick drink before the movie and get into the Camden spirit. And, of course, you can lean into the cinematic experience and get a drink (alcoholic or otherwise) and a giant tub of popcorn from Dendy’s bar and refreshments counter. This is precisely what we did at the Dendy Newtown’s Red Carpet Preview last week!

But what about the movie itself? I’ll be honest – my review is mixed.

The general story…

As you’ve probably guessed, Back to Black is based on the extraordinary but all too brief life of Amy Winehouse. Following the singer from her late adolescence through to her death at age 27, it covers her throwback style and musical influences (primarily shaped by her father and grandmother’s love of jazz), her rise to critical acclaim, and her complicated and messy relationship with alcohol, drugs, fame, and her on-and-off boyfriend turned husband turned ex, Blake.

There are no huge revelations here in terms of the narrative. It’s all stuff that was plastered over the tabloids while Winehouse was still among us. And it’s all been covered to death – no pun intended – in various documentaries since. 

My beef with Back to Black

Although the film is all about Winehouse’s mental health, addictions, and relationships, it just doesn’t go deep enough. It covers many of the things you’d expect and it shows some of the singer’s most devastating lows, yet it somehow skips over a lot of emotional ground. It doesn’t add anything new and it probably raises more questions than it answers.

It also shies away from many of the “facts” we’ve grown familiar with. For example, it paints a generally positive picture of a loving father. While the media has long portrayed him as a greedy and fame-hungry parent who selfishly pushed his daughter beyond what her physical and mental health could handle, Back to Black only hints at this in a couple of scenes.

The film also provides a favourable image of Blake. Flawed – yes. Troubled and codependent – absolutely. But, all in all, he comes across as a loveable rogue who genuinely cares for Winehouse. Though he has his own issues and addictions, he seems to come up for fresh air on occasion with more clarity and a drive to be better. He chooses to separate from the abusive singer on multiple occasions and is portrayed as the voice of reason while Winehouse is a toxic and unstoppable tornado of destruction.

I haven’t fallen down the Winehouse Wikipedia rabbit hole far enough to know whether these portrayals are factually accurate or wildly misrepresented. But, perhaps it raises some valid questions about our relationship with the media and its celebrity-obsessed culture. Will we ever really know the actual truth about Amy Winehouse’s personal relationships? And, even if we did, is it any of our business anyway?

Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in Back to Black

Onto the good stuff

This movie is by no means terrible – it just falls short of its massive potential. Having said that, the performances from the cast are all strong. 

Marisa Abela’s scarily rapid transformation from a ballsy and playful young woman to the lost and emaciated addict of Winehouse’s later years demonstrates the actress’ range. She also does a decent job of emulating Winehouse’s distinctive voice and performance style. Navigating the very fine line between embodying the icon’s spirit and doing a Winehouse impression is a tall order, but Abela generally achieves this through most of the film.

Eddie Marsan and Lesley Manville also put in decent performances as Winehouse’s father, Mitch, and much-loved grandmother, Cynthia. Questions about the accuracy of Mitch Winehouse’s portrayal aside, Marsan finds an endearing quality to the character, striking a good balance between his flaws as a human being – albeit massively understated – and his love for his daughter.

The stand-out performance, however, was Jack O’Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil. Again, putting aside whether or not the film takes artistic liberties with the truth of his character, the actor’s nuanced portrayal of a charismatic jack-the-lad helps viewers understand why Winehouse fell in love with him in the first place. O’Connell’s version of Blake will also make you re-examine your assumptions about the man. Though we’re used to seeing a tabloid villain who drove a star to addiction and destruction, he’s a human being with some good qualities as well as his own demons and complicated relationships. 

The verdict

If you love Amy Winehouse’s music or are fascinated by her story, this film is worth a watch. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever see but it does have a good cast and will make you think twice about the tabloid narrative we’ve been fed over the years.

Back to Black – available in cinemas across Australia from 11 April 2024
For showings at Newtown, head to the Dendy Cinemas Newtown website

About the author

Originally from Wales, Siri is a native Welsh speaker and bilingual writer living in Sydney. With a background in film and television production, particularly comedy, she loves to make people laugh - usually at her own expense. Siri writes about all sorts from film and restaurant reviews to marathon running and adventure travel. She loves pale ale and shiraz and is yet to meet a chocolate mousse she can’t devour in seconds. An intrepid adventurer trapped inside the body of a couch potato, there’s nothing Siri won’t try - but she can’t promise to be even remotely graceful while doing it.


When I was asked to review Belle & Sebastian: Next Generation, I was intrigued. Was this a documentary about the offspring of the 90's indie pop band, Belle & Sebastian? Or was it a musical superhero sequel inspired by the life of said musicians? You’ll be glad (or perhaps disappointed) to know that it was neither.

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