The first full trailer for “Back to Black,” Samantha Taylor-Johnson’s Amy Winehouse biopic, is out today, and a few of the scenes feature Jewish actress Marisa Abela as the British-Jewish singer from Camden wearing a big gold Star of David necklace, almost identical to the one worn by the singer herself.
In one scene, Abela is wearing a black dress and shades while staring at a store window filled with chandeliers; in another, she talks about how she needs to live her life to make her music, and can’t just bang out hits. Throughout it all, the necklace is there, big and golden and prominent, signaling Winehouse’s Jewishness to viewers.
There’s also what appears to be a funeral service for her Jewish grandmother, Cynthia Levy, who passed away five years before Winehouse did, and who meant the world to the singer.
Cynthia, played by Leslie Manville, appears in one scene in the trailer: “From primary school to sell-out concerts,” she lovingly tells her granddaughter, “it’s going to happen one day. A voice like yours, it’s gotta happen.”
Two other prominent figures in Winehouse’s life also appear in the trailer: her Jewish dad, played by Eddie Marsan, a cab driver who can be seen telling his clients “that’s my Amy” as they pass a billboard featuring the star. Marsan, who isn’t Jewish but is a prolific actor with some pretty diverse roles under his belt, has played a variety of Jewish roles, from Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon’s father in the animated movie “Charlotte,” to former President of Israel Shimon Peres in the film “Entebbe,” to American diplomat Paul Wolfowitz in “Vice.” Marsan is also about to play the Jewish father of Beatles manager Brian Epstein in the upcoming “Midas Man.”
Jewish music producer Mark Ronson, who produced Winehouse’s most successful album, the unforgettable “Back to Black,” is also in the trailer. He is played by Canadian actor Jeff Tunke, and can be seen telling Amy that hers is one of the best voices he’s ever heard.
You can also see Amy talk about the motivations behind her music. “I want people to hear my voice and just forget their troubles for a minute,” she says, adding that she cares less about making hits. “I write songs cause I want to make something good out of something bad.”
The movie seems to center Winehouse’s love affair with her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connor), to whom she was married between 2007 and 2009, which inspired the emotions so potently conveyed in “Back to Black.” In the trailer, you can hear Amy talk about her longing to be more than just a singer, but to be a wife and a mother, and also about her ardent love for Fielder-Civil.
All in all, the Amy Winehouse in this trailer seems like a strong, deeply feeling woman. While the movie was made by Taylor-Johnson, a former friend of the singer, and was approved by her estate, many have worried that it will just further the kind of exploitation the singer experienced in her short life. And with media treatments of substance use and addiction already being so often skewed and problematic, that adds another level of challenge to reverently telling the story of this artist, who died of alcohol poisoning at age 27.
As my colleague Evelyn Frick wrote in Hey Alma, we can only hope that every aspect of Winehouse’s story is treated with the grace and respect this history-making musician deserves. Winehouse may not have been too observant as a Jew, but her Jewish identity was an important part of her and it is heartening to see her character proudly wearing the Jewish insiginia she so often did in real life.