It is now 10 years since Amy Winehouse’s death at the age of 27, and Reclaiming Amy (BBC Two) is a short, sad, sweet film that sees her family and friends give their side of the singer’s complicated story. It is narrated by her mother Janis, and does not attempt to hide its position as a riposte to Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary Amy, which, Janis says, “claimed to tell the real story about our daughter”. The implication is that it did not, and certainly her father, Mitch, has reason to address some of the criticisms it levelled at him. Here, he claims he had a nervous breakdown after its release.
“The way Amy turned out wasn’t because she wasn’t raised right,” insists her lifelong friend, Michael, and we see plenty of clips of how she was raised. There are home videos and photographs of her on the day she was born, at three, at five. There is footage of her playing Rizzo in a school production of Grease, and her star power is plain to see even then. She practically blows the other Pink Ladies off the stage.
The programme is at its best when it lets this intimacy speak for itself, rather than directly trying to right the perceived wrongs of Kapadia’s film. When Amy’s music career took off, she loved it, as her friend Catriona remembers: “That’s when things were really great.” The joy in her performances is dazzling, particularly in the days of her debut album, Frank. She plays at Glastonbury and the sun comes out. Her magnetism is obvious, her vivaciousness blinding. But then, as another friend, Chantelle, solemnly puts it, “it all kicked off”.
Her second album, Back to Black, made Amy an international sensation at the same time that her addiction and bulimia were running rampant. It is painful to watch the unravelling you know is about to come. The portrait of the teenage Amy is so honest, in part because she tells some of it herself. One of the lovely touches here is the use of an interview carried out by Catriona, who was practising for a potential career in TV. Janis calls Amy “a volatile creature”, not without affection, but we hear Amy agree. She could be, she admits, “a real shit” to her mother. In turn, her mother says she did not know how to tame her daughter.
After this, you are left wondering if anyone could. Certainly the Amy that lives in this documentary is bloody-minded and hard to reach. Everyone closely involved with her life during those traumatic, out-of-control years describes being in her orbit and not knowing what to do. She won five Grammys, one announced by her hero Tony Bennett, that famous look of shock appearing on her face as she slowly realises what is happening. But she married the wrong man, lost her beloved grandmother Cynthia, and endured an eating disorder which many felt was taboo to discuss back then. Mitch says he tried to have his daughter sectioned. Janis explains that her MS was progressing: “I could only watch. Watch and wait.” Amy’s friends Catriona, Chantelle and Naomi talk about running around London with her, and the highs are remembered with such love.
But the lows are agonising. Even now, after 10 years, the rawness is palpable, and the final five minutes are crushingly sad. In the end, the most convincing case Reclaiming Amy makes is that nobody is to blame for the singer’s death. “The culprit is addiction,” says Mitch.
It is too personal a film to be particularly objective, but there are other documentaries that make the claim to be so. This is people who knew Amy well, talking about her many complex facets, as a superstar but mainly as a daughter and as their friend.