A Guide to the Real People Portrayed in the Amy Winehouse Biopic Back to Black

Sam Taylor Johnson’s highly anticipated Amy Winehouse biopic, Back to Black, was contested by the late musician’s fans from the day it was announced. For some, it felt too soon following Winehouse’s untimely death in 2011; for others, a musical drama invited the possibility of caricature at best and exploitation at worst.

Fresh in the mind of Winehouse fans was Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary, Amy, which shed light on her on-and-off romantic relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, who introduced the young singer to hard drugs, and her father, who has as greedy and uncaring.

Matt Greenhalgh, Back to Black’s screenwriter, said he was less interested in telling the stories already out in the public. Instead, his writing focused on moments of lightness rather than darkness, Greenhalgh tells TIME. The film, with Winehouse played by Marisa Abela, charts her rise to global prominence, as well as the recording of her 2006 album, also called Back to Black, which was largely inspired by her struggles with addiction and her breakup with Fielder-Civil (played by Jack O’Connell).

“There is always a dark cloud to have with Amy’s legacy and we felt that we should also be celebrating, because we had 10 fantastic years of that music. The music still exists and she still lives on,” Greenhalgh says. In the days after Greenhalgh spoke to TIME, Winehouse was awarded a by the British Phonographic Industry—honoring one billion digital streams.

Back to Black also seeks to show the joy Winehouse felt in London’s live music venues and around her family, especially her father Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and grandmother, Cynthia Levy (Lesley Manville), as well as her love for Fielder-Civil. But despite its depiction of Winehouse surrounded by loved ones, Greenhalgh says the film does not seek to absolve anyone involved in Winehouse’s from alcohol poisoning at 27. “I do think they still come out with their faults but there’s just a different perspective,” he adds.

The film has also made notable choices about whom to omit, including Mark Ronson, who produced the namesake album, and Reg Traviss, Winehouse’s fiance in the last two years of her life. As fans continue to unpack how true to life the biopic is, here’s what to know about the real figures in Winehouse’s life.

Cynthia Levy

One of the first characters we meet in Back to Black is Cynthia Levy, Winehouse’s paternal grandmother. Born in 1927, Levy was a jazz singer in her own right who was with saxophonist and club owner Ronnie Scott.

The film opens with Winehouse looking at old photographs of her grandmother, whom she describes as “the ultimate ‘50s pin up girl.” As Winehouse marvels at snapshots of her at London’s iconic Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, her grandmother tells her about all the famed musicians she met there, naming Ella Fitzgerald, Matt Monro, and Tony Bennett. Winehouse’s love of music and jazz knowledge was heavily influenced by her grandmother’s own successful career as a singer. She is also credited with teaching Winehouse how to style her hair into the beehive, a ‘60s style that would become the singer’s trademark.

“Finding out how much Amy relied on her, not only for a musical sort of education, but just as a person that understood her, was great for me,” says Greenhalgh “It’s a character that I could come to quite fresh because no one really knew about her. There were no preconceived ideas about Cynthia.”

Over the course of the film, we witness a number of intimate moments between Winehouse and her grandmother; they take walks, discuss Winehouse’s love life, and—in a darker moment—Levy cares for Winehouse when she blacks out from intoxication. These tender moments make it sting even more when Levy is diagnosed with lung cancer and dies shortly before the Back to Black album is released. In tribute to her late grandmother, Winehouse had a tattoo of her name on her right arm.

“[Winehouse’s] downfall—the hard drug taking—coincided with Cynthia’s death and that’s kind of been overlooked a little bit,” Greenhalgh adds. Levy died in and was buried at Edgwarebury Lane Jewish Cemetery, where later would be buried alongside her.

Mitch Winehouse

Back to Black begins with Winehouse surrounded by her father’s warm Jewish family singing together before he takes her to her mother’s home. It is clear that the couple are separated and Mitch Winehouse acknowledges that his relationship with Winehouse’s mother is rocky. Throughout the film, Mitch plays a prominent part in Winehouse’s career and personal life, offering his opinion on her stage presence as well as her choice of husband. Mitch is deeply concerned when Winehouse elopes with Fielder-Civil in Miami. He is also shown making choice decisions about Winehouse’s wellbeing and addiction; when she does eventually go to a rehab facility it is her father who takes her there.

Mitch Winehouse was born in 1950 to a Jewish family of in North London. He worked as a taxi driver for most of his life, and married Winehouse’s mother Janis in 1976. The couple welcomed their son Alex in 1979, followed by Amy in 1983. Mitch and Janis separated after he with a woman named Jane whom he worked with. Mitch remained with Jane for 31 years before they As Winehouse’s Daddy’s Girl tattoo suggests, the two were extremely close.

While the film and popular belief suggests Mitch Winehouse did not think his daughter needed to go to a rehab center, he has previously said he took her to get sober a number of times after the infamous song was released.

After the release of Kapadia’s documentary Amy, Mitch Winehouse became a controversial figure, with many accusing him of exploiting his daughter’s fame and legacy. But Greenhalgh says that’s just one perspective on Mitch, and one he does not subscribe to.

“I don’t particularly believe that Mitch killed his daughter. He has his faults but I think he always loved his daughter,” says Greenhalgh. “There was no point in trying to rehash that sort of storyline of Mitch being manipulative and totally about himself because there was love there, lots of love.”

Mitch now runs for young people struggling with drug addiction and homelessness.

Janis Collins

Winehouse’s mother, then named Janis Winehouse (played by Juliet Cowan), has very little screen time in Back to Black. Winehouse is seen writing songs in her bedroom at Janis’ house and later welcoming her mother on stage as she wins the 2008 Grammy Award for best album, but Collins makes few appearances between these moments.

Greenhalgh says this decision was a structural one due to Amy’s parents being divorced. “If she was with Mitch, she wouldn’t be with Janis. So you can’t have everyone in the same scene. Janis was another agonizing character that we wanted to put more into, but we just couldn’t,” he says.

A retired pharmacist, Collins separated from Mitch when Winehouse was nine. She remarried, to Richard Collins, in 2011. In 2014, Collins released a memoir titled Loving Amy: A Mother’s Story, in which she details her daughter’s life, struggles, and legacy. Collins also worked on the 2021 documentary to mark the 10 year anniversary of her daughter’s death. Collins, who had experienced symptoms of multiple sclerosis for over 20 years before being diagnosed, said she as her condition “threatens to strip her of her memories of Amy.”

Blake Fielder-Civil

Back to Black depicts Winehouse and Fielder-Civil’s first meeting almost exactly as it happened. According to an