‘Back to Black’: all the London filming locations from the Amy Winehouse biopic

A colourful and sure-to-be-contentious replaying of Amy Winehouse’s triumphant and tragic life, ‘Back to Black’ finally lands on UK cinema screens this month. ‘Industry’s Marisa Abela steps into Winehouse’s ballet flats and ‘Starred Up’s Jack O’Connell is her hubby Blake Fielder-Civil. But it’s London, too, that takes a starring role in a musical biopic that showcases the swinging, seedy, boozy side of the city we all know and love.

From Amy’s Camden to Soho by night, via a quick trip to the Big Apple, director Sam Taylor-Johnson took her cameras to the real spots once frequented by the ‘Rehab’ singer. As the filmmaker tells us, it all adds a layer of authenticity to the film that will hit home with anyone who remembers those heady mid-noughties days when every step Winehouse took seemed to appear on the front page of the tabloids. ‘As much as possible, I wanted to be authentic to the places that she loved and feel the spirit of her,’ the director tells Time Out. ‘I feel like we’ve honoured the city.’

Flamin Eight
Photograph: Alamy

Flamin’ Eight Tattoo Studio, Camden

Kentish Town’s Flamin’ Eight scores highly on Time Out’s ranking of London’s best tattoo parlours – and it scored highly with Amy Winehouse during her Camden days. It was one of her favourite spots for getting inked – as reflected by several scenes in the film, all filmed at the studio itself.

Jeffrey’s Place, Camden 

Amy Winehouse’s old home turf in Camden, Jeffrey’s Place, forms a key part of the story. It’s where she’s living when she falls in love with Blake and – temporarily – storms away from her record label. It’s also where she finds herself routinely swamped by paparazzi.

On set, it was a case of life imitating art imitating life when real snappers infiltrated the shoot. ‘It was confusing for Marisa and myself when one paparazzi infiltrated our actor paparazzi,’ remembers Taylor-Johnson. ‘I called “cut” and told him to leave set, and he said: “I’ve got every right to get that picture like they do,” and I said: “They’re actors. There is no picture. This isn’t Amy.” That’s when it gets meta and confusing.’

Regent’s Canal, Camden
Photograph: Shutterstock

Regent’s Canal, Camden

‘I used to walk along the canals quite a lot, so it was good to have them as part of it,’ says the director. Sure enough, the canal in Camden, once an Amy Winehouse rat run, features prominently in the first half of the film. Filming on the narrow towpath came with some obvious perils. ‘We did have quite a few crew almost fall in on one day,’ remembers Taylor-Johnson. ‘Also, bolshy people who don’t care when you’re filming and just push their way through, so we’d have to cut. We had one guy who kept doing it, so that was quite entertaining.’ 

The Good Mixer
Photograph: Laura Gallant/Time Out

The Good Mixer, Camden

The film’s standout scene takes place in one of Amy’s favourite pubs, The Good Mixer. It’s a recreation of her first encounter with a cocky but charming Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) over pints and pool. The immediately smitten Amy props up the bar on one side of the pub when Blake strides in, fresh from making a mint at the bookie, before decamping to the other half to flirt with him as he plays pool.

The pub’s unusual geography worked perfectly for the scene, explains Taylor-Johnson. ‘It was a gift that the two rooms are divided by the bar,’ she says. ‘You could have her on one side watching him on the other, and then they come together in the back bar where we see them falling in love with that long one-take.’ Like the nearby Dublin Castle, another key location, the pub hasn’t changed much since the mid-noughties. ‘They have the same floor, bar, everything. The only thing we had to change was the jukebox.’

Primrose Hill at dusk, London
Photograph: Shutterstock

Primrose Hill

Two impromptu picnics in the film – one with Blake, the other with Amy’s nan Cynthia – were filmed on Primrose Hill. ‘We were filming February for July, so bless Marisa because she wasn’t wearing a whole lot and it was really freezing cold,’ says Taylor-Johnson.

Ronnie Scott's
Photograph: Shutterstock

Ronnie Scott’s, Soho

Soho’s legendary jazz club appears twice in the film – for Amy’s landmark first Ronnie Scott’s gig and when she stops by with her dad and has an impromptu jam with a few rehearsing musicians – and both scenes were filmed at the venue. The club has special significance for Taylor-Johnson, too. ‘The only time I ever saw Amy play [was there]’, she says. ‘I remember thinking what an incredible voice she had, but also how painfully shy and nervous she was. I wanted to go back to Ronnie Scott’s to feel her heritage of having sung there.’

Back to Black
Photograph: StudioCanal

Bar Italia, Soho

Another Soho staple pops up in a key scene when Amy tells her dad Mitch that she wants to go into rehab in Bar Italia. The moment took place elsewhere IRL, but dad and daughter would stop there for coffee. ‘I had fun filming there because I used to go to Bar Italia and Little Italy, the restaurant next to it, all the time,’ says Taylor-Johnson. ‘Tony, who still runs it, was just offering us plates of pasta.’

So what’s the key to filming in Soho at nighttime? Move fast. ‘We shot just outside Ronnie Scott’s… and let’s just say it was challenging,’ says the director. ‘It was that feeling of: “We’ve got to move really quick because everyone’s really behaving so far.”’

Mildmay Club
Photograph: Lauren Daley

The Mildmay Club, Stoke Newington

‘The Krays’, Mike Leigh’s ‘Vera Drake’, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and ‘Call the Midwife’ are just a few films and TV shows to use this legendary Stokey snooker club. In ‘Back to Black’, it’s where Blake tells Amy it’s over for the first time. ‘It’s an amazing old working men’s club and snooker hall, and all the cues around the hall belonged to men who didn’t come back from World War I,’ says Taylor-Johnson. ‘It’s so hard these days to find places that have remained untouched, but it adds another level of character.’

Palm Tree Pub
Photograph: Jess Hand

The Palm Tree, Mile End

This characterful East End fixture cameos in a key scene in which Mitch Winehouse discovers that Amy has got married and meets his new son-in-law over the phone – all in one stomach-churning mobile call. We’re not sure if Winehouse Sr ever stops by The Palm Tree, but it’s definitely worth a detour for anyone looking for an old-school Cockney drinker. 

Reptile House at ZSL London Zoo
Photograph: ZSL

London Zoo

The zoo makes a cameo appearance when Blake and Amy take a first date outing to see the chinchillas. They come up empty-handed: the zoo does not stock these Peruvian critters.

Golders Green Crematorium
Photograph: Alamy

Golders Green Crematorium  

Amy’s beloved nan (and now Amy herself) is laid to rest in Barnet’s Edgwarebury Cemetery, but Golders Green Crematorium stands in for it on screen.

Wormwood Scrubs
Photograph: Shutterstock

HMP Wormwood Scrubs

The real Blake Fielder-Civil did time in Pentonville Prison and Suffolk’s Edmunds Hill Prison. In the film, Wormwood Scrubs doubles up as the latter for an exterior shot of Winehouse leaving after a visit to see her hubby.

When is ‘Back to Black’ out?

It’s in UK cinemas on Friday, April 12 and in US theaters May 17.