Roedean School Alumna to Star in Back to Black, a Film About Amy Winehouse’s Life

24 May 2023

A Roedean School alumna will play Amy Winehouse in Back to Black, a new film about the singer’s life. Set for release in 2024, the biopic stars Old Roedeanian (OR) Marisa Abela in the leading role. She will appear alongside Eddie Marsan as Winehouse’s father Mitch.

Abela, from Rottingdean, attended the School in East Sussex from 2008 to 2015. During her time at the independent all-girls school, she starred in several student productions, including Tristan and Yseult.

Roedean has a long history of supporting students who have a passion for the creative and performing arts. Today, art, music, dance, and drama are key features of School life.

Roedean School’s History

Sisters Penelope, Dorothy, and Millicent Lawrence established Roedean School in 1885. They sought to offer a thorough education that would nurture girls and inspire them to achieve their potential.

Originally known as Wimbledon House, Roedean opened with 10 students. The School moved to its current clifftop location, in Roedean Way, in 1898. It has continued to thrive and expand and, today, the School educates around 700 day and boarding students.

Over the years, Roedean’s alumnae have found success in various fields, including the arts, sports, journalism, politics, and film and television. These alumnae include Liberal Democrat politician Layla Moran, world champion freediver Tanya Streeter, and novelist Tessa Dahl.

Roedean School and the Arts

The Lawrences’ vision for the School included cultivating the girls’ appreciation of culture and the arts. Roedean’s commitment to the arts continues to this day. Students regularly make the most of the School’s specialist creative teachers and outstanding facilities.

Roedean has produced several alumnae who have enjoyed successful careers in the arts and entertainment industry. Notable ORs include the actors Rebecca Hall, Honeysuckle Weeks, and Perdita Weeks; theatre producer Caro Newling; and artist Nick Carter.

Girls study a range of creative and performing arts subjects as part of their curriculum. They also have plentiful opportunities to explore these disciplines beyond the classroom.

Drama at Roedean School

For girls interested in drama, the School’s professional, 350-seat theatre is the ideal setting to explore their acting or stage-management skills.

Three major annual productions and the house plays (run by students) ensure that girls from all year groups have the chance to get involved. Recent years have seen performances of Matilda, Romeo and Juliet, Cabaret, and Six.

On top of this, the School offers West End workshops, professional masterclasses, and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) examinations. Students can take LAMDA exams in acting, public speaking, verse and prose, and musical theatre. Over the past three years, Roedeanians have achieved a 100% distinction rate in musical theatre exams.

The School is also involved with the National Student Drama Festival and national writing schemes. Some Roedean students are also members of the National Youth Theatre.

Marisa Abela: From Roedean to Hollywood

Abela was a day student at Roedean and learnt her acting craft at the School. Teachers remember Abela as a regular on the School stage. Roedean’s Assistant Director of Music Sophia Bartlette recalls that she was a “lively performer” with a “commanding stage presence.”

While she enjoyed acting, Abela was focused on studying history and law. She initially wanted to study law after Roedean and become a human rights lawyer.

However, her heart lay in acting, and Abela’s drama teacher encouraged her to join a local theatre school. After graduating from Roedean, Abela deferred her place at University College London (UCL) and auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

Abela found fame after her portrayal of Yasmin in the popular BBC2 series Industry. The OR’s career may soon skyrocket now that director Sam Taylor-Wood has cast her as Amy Winehouse in Back to Black.

Next, Abela will feature in Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster Barbie alongside Hollywood A-listers Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie.

Encouraging Generations of Girls to Shine

Since 1885, Roedean School has encouraged generations of girls to explore their varied interests, develop their strengths, and shine on and off the stage.

The success of Roedean alumnae in the entertainment industry may, in part, be due to the School’s dedication to drama and the arts. It’s clear that the School’s aims — to ensure that each girl is happy, creative, independent, and confident — bring out the best in every student.

Roedean looks forward to seeing Abela’s upcoming performance in the Amy Winehouse biopic.

Learn more about Drama at Roedean School.

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