500 Days Of Film Reviews Amy And Finds A Shocking And Surprising Documentary About The Life Of Amy Winehouse

Amy is the latest film from Asif Kapadia - the director best known for his 2010 documentary charting the life and tragic death of Formula One star, Ayrton Senna (click here to read my Senna review). 

Kapadia’s new film follows the life and tragic death of another person - singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse.

The documentary follows a fairly standard chronological path but leaves a trail of narrative breadcrumbs along the way.

These breadcrumbs are cues for us, his audience, as we attempt to answer the question that nags us to this day - could anything or anyone have saved Amy?

Is It Any Good?

Despite Kapadia’s traditional timeline structure (starting with Amy as a young girl and following her to the end of her life) and despite being all too familiar with Amy’s story - I was both surprised and startled by this film.

The main surprise of Amy is Amy. She tells her own story. She is present in almost every scene thanks to the remarkable amount of footage that was taken of her (and, on occasion, by her) during her short life. 

Amy is also present in her song writing (we see pages and pages of her almost childlike script) and via her lyrics which often appear on screen. 

That we see so much of Amy in this film (much in extreme close up) makes this documentary an intense and, often, extremely tough watch.

I started to feel that, by watching, I was almost part of the media pack that was hunting her down. This sense of culpability was surely part of Kapadia’s plan. 

I finished watching Amy disgusted by how she had been treated by some sections of the press. The heartless cruelty on display from these people with their prying cameras and dizzying flashbulbs is almost beyond belief.

This was a fragile young woman who was struggling and many people viewed her as a joke - as fair game.

As Kapadia tells his story, he tempts us to draw conclusions about who was responsible for Amy’s tragic death.

We see that, long before she became a target for the world’s media, she was extremely fragile emotionally and mentally. She lays much of the blame for her depression at the door of her father, Mitch Winehouse, who had an affair and left the family home when she was nine.

This must have been devastating for her father to hear and I can understand why Mitch Winehouse threatened to sue Asif Kapadia after first watching this film. He does not come off well. 

The film includes many of Mitch’s comments and decisions that are hard for an outsider like me to understand. Famously, at a key stage in her addiction he did not believe that Amy needed to go into rehab. 

Many of his actions appear to stem from self interest and a misguided pursuit of his own celebrity career. It made me want to scream at the screen - forget all of this, forget her career, forget yours - get that girl somewhere safe.

Meanwhile, Amy’s mother, Janis, is portrayed as an extremely weak woman who could not control Amy even when she was very young. 

And, of course, Amy’s former husband, Blake Civil is also often blamed - primarily for introducing her to hard drugs. He will have to live with that for a long long time.

However, I didn’t see him as an evil character. Don’t get me wrong, I loathed him in this film. I just also saw him as equally lost, equally damaged. It was a shame that they found each other.

It is too easy to point the finger of blame and Amy’s is not an easy story. Does this film show us facts or just one version of the truth? We will never know. 

If Amy’s parents had said or done something different, would Amy have died? We will never know. If someone had removed her from Civil and from the music industry until she was able to cope would she still be alive today? Tragically, again, we will just never know.  

We do know that Amy did try to get better and watching this in the film made me feel desperate for a different outcome. Sadly, this was not to be and Amy died aged just 27.

However, she still seems so alive to me whenever I hear her sing - particularly since we know the comfort she gained from songwriting. Whenever she felt overwhelmed, Amy would pour her feelings onto the page. 

Kapadia  ensures that we understand this, and that we appreciate her talent and its unfulfilled potential. This is not just a tragic tale, this is also a celebration of a phenomenally talented musician.

Random Observations

Mitch Winehouse has given many interviews following the release of Amy. He remains angry with how he is portrayed in the documentary and has said that he intends to make his own film. 

Have you seen Amy? I would love to hear your thoughts on this film. Do leave me a comment in the box below.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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