Life & Culture

Television review: Reclaiming Amy

Josh Howie views the BBC's documentary made by Amy Winehouse's family ten years after her death.


Programme Name: Reclaiming Amy - TX: 23/07/2021 - Episode: Reclaiming Amy (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Janis Winehouse-Collins, Amy Winehouse - (C) Winehouse Family Photo - Photographer: Unknown / Winehouse Family photo

In a new documentary marking the decade since her death, Amy Winehouse’s Jewishness is never specifically discussed, but it’s there. It’s in the Magen David marking her gravestone, it’s in the yarmulkes worn by the grieving congregants at her funeral, and less morbidly, it’s recognisable in the video footage of what could be any North London Jewish family; real, messy, not perfect, but full of love. What marks this family as different though, is that their precocious, strong-willed daughter just happened to grow up to be a superhuman.

Seeing photos of Amy in her school uniform, hearing her reciting the alphabet as a toddler, viewing her powers awaken at a school musical, it’s like observing a young Clark Kent. Before the costume of hair, tattoos, eye makeup, before the voice, before she seemingly belonged to all of us, Amy Winehouse was Amy the daughter, Amy the friend. And in Reclaiming Amy, her parents and loved ones stake their claim to getting her back.

They want her back from the paparazzi, they want her back from the toxic marriage, they want her back from the drugs. They want the narrative back of what went wrong and how it went wrong. Specifically the story laid out in the 2015 Oscar-winning documentary Amy, along with the idea that the groundwork for Amy’s death took root in a troubled childhood, and that the ultimate tragedy took place partly through the actions and in-actions of her father Mitchell, and her management too. Regarding Amy’s childhood, this documentary is successful, with the later years, partially.

The narrator is Amy’s mother Janis, who’s captured by multiple sclerosis, which, we’re told is affecting her eloquence so she only has a few years left to give her perspective justice. What upset her most was “the idea that Amy had an unhappy childhood.” And divorce or not, it’s apparent here how much Amy the daughter was loved. That in the moments of her greatest successes Amy instinctively reaches for her parents, tells you of their centrality to her life. Maybe that’s the saddest thing, that the love alone wasn’t enough to change what happened.

Mitchell may indeed be a man with flaws, which he himself acknowledges, but if he’d done things differently, done everything perfectly, it’s unlikely the outcome would’ve been different. On the other hand it’s never sufficiently explained why Amy toured while in such an obviously terrible state; declarations like “nobody controlled Amy” just don’t cut it. But who am I to judge? I’m as culpable as anyone who stared fixated at her deterioration, who fed the beast that seemed to revel in it.

Very few people can know the pressures of living that kind of life, under that kind of focus. Maybe things would be different now, the world has changed in some ways for the better with a paparazzi culture in decline, and more openness concerning mental health. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Ultimately those closest to her did their best, but it was Amy’s addiction with alcohol that defeated them, as it defeated her. We lost an artist. They lost Amy.


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