Studiocanal‘s long sought-after Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black has found partners in Focus Features and Monumental Pictures and is officially ready to kick things into gear. Officially greenlit back in July, the film features Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson at the helm and has since managed to land Industry breakout star Marisa Abela in the highly-coveted role of the troubled singer. To celebrate the acquisition, Focus released the first look at Abela‘s stunning transformation into Winehouse, donning the singer’s iconic beehive hairdo, tattoos, and mole.
The biopic, written by Taylor-Johnson‘s Nowhere Boy collaborator Matt Greenhalgh, is set to follow Winehouse during her vibrant years in London in the early aughts and her immense struggle to achieve stardom. It will document her rise to fame from Camden High Street while diving into the deeply personal nature of her work that makes her such a beloved artist to this day. The film is named after her landmark album, which features many of her biggest hits including “Rehab” and won her a then-record five Grammys. Hollywood has long been obsessed with the story of Winehouse, and they’ve tried repeatedly to bring her story to the feature format. A Lotus Entertainment biopic starring Noomi Rapace seemed primed to do so, though the project fell through. A24 would ultimately capitalize on the desire with the Oscar-winning documentary Amy, but there was still a strong urge to create a proper biopic with the full support of the Amy Winehouse Estate.
Naturally, with the widespread interest in the industry came a widespread interest to play Winehouse. Abela stood out immediately among the many actresses that tried out for the role, placing her firmly as the frontrunner in the eyes of executives and Taylor-Johnson. Although her career is relatively young, she’s burst onto the scene in the past few years, appearing alongside James Norton and Gemma Arterton in Rogue Agent and ultimately getting her big break on the hit HBO Max series Industry. She’s also slated as one of the many stars to appear in Greta Gerwig‘s highly-anticipated Barbie later this year. Her first shot as Winehouse has certainly made a good first impression, embodying the look and attitude of the late superstar.
Back to Black Is a Deeply Personal Project for Taylor-Johnson as Well
For Taylor-Johnson, there’s a greater connection to Back to Black. Although she’s experienced in directing music biopics like the aforementioned Nowhere Boy about the younger years of John Lennon, she feels the Winehouse biopic is more personal to her due to her own time in Camden, the borough the singer rose out of. Taylor-Johnson said in a statement:
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. 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.
Her partner Greenhalgh also has plenty of experience working with music biopics. His best-known work, Control, followed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis and earned a slew of awards including a BAFTA. Greenhalgh released his own statement about Back to Black, adding:
Amy Winehouse is the greatest musical talent of the 21st century so far. But like so many female icons, the tragedy of her death has seemed to obscure the triumph of her talent…the fun of the noughties, the craziness of Camden, her youth and brilliance – we want to reclaim that for her, with this film.
Alison Owen and Debra Hayward of Monumental Pictures produce with Nicky Kentish-Barnes executive producing alongside Studiocanal overseers Ron Halpern and Joe Naftalin. Since the Winehouse Estate, Universal Music Group, and Sony Music Publishing are all on board, expect plenty of Winehouse‘s classic songs to appear throughout the film. “We are thrilled that STUDIOCANAL, Focus Features and Monumental are making this movie celebrating our daughter Amy’s extraordinary music legacy and showcasing her talent in the way that it deserves,” the Winehouse Estate added in their own official statement on the project.
Principal photography on Back to Black begins on January 16. Stay tuned here at Collider for more as the project gets underway.