Amy Winehouse (Marisa Abela) is a young Jewish girl from North London with a powerful and soulful singing voice, one encouraged in particular by her dad Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and nan Cynthia (Lesley Manville). As Amy’s singing career goes from strength to strength, her relationship with her boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell), as well as her drug and alcohol addictions, threaten to consume her.

Sam Taylor-Johnson and writer Matt Greenhalgh make the extraordinary decision to present a sanitised version of Winehouse’s well-known turbulent and short life. The results provide an extremely shortened breeze through her career highs and lows, with little mention of her bulimia outside of one scene and an almost equally brief depiction of her heroin and crack addictions.

This creative direction also results in a cleaned up portrayal of the toxic people in Winehouse’s life. Mitch is shown to be nothing less than a loving dad, with none of his self-serving, exploitative tendencies on display, whilst Blake is shown to oppose her addictions more than enable them, a particularly troubling change that absolves him of his role in Winehouse’s decline.

The most notable omission, however, is that of Winehouse’s creative process – with the exception of one scene at the beginning, nothing is shown of her songwriting for which she was most acclaimed. This results in a baffling absence of the very characteristics in the film for which Winehouse was known, which somewhat goes against the general unwritten rule of biopics.

As a singer, Abela’s renditions of Winehouse’s hits are technically polished but lack any of the passion or force of the original recordings. The same can be said for the rest of her performance, which despite her best efforts comes across as forced whenever she has to show Winehouse at her lowest. Her imitation of Winehouse’s Cockney accent in particular becomes strained at various points and any displays of aggression feel very muted.

Abela does manage to shine in her scenes with Cynthia as she shares a natural chemistry with Manville, however, these moments are the only ones that provide any sign of her embodying Winehouse as a person. Marsan and O’Connell do the best with what they’re given to work with, although O’Connell looks strangely buff as the heroin-addicted Blake.

Back to Black is a strangely sanitised portrayal of the life of a singer whose life was anything but that also refuses to fully explore her creativity and career in any meaningful way. For a more insightful look into the life of Amy Winehouse, check out Asif Kapadia‘s award-winning 2015 documentary Amy, the existence of which makes this film all the more unnecessary.

In cinemas nationwide now