starring Aaron Johnson, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas
written by Matt Greenhalgh
directed by Sam Taylor-Wood
Lennon’s life was dominated by four women: his mother, Julia; his Aunt, Mimi; and his wives, Cynthia and Yoko.
This is a British “biopic”of John Lennon’s teenage years in Liverpool, based on the biography Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon by one of his half-sisters, Julia Baird. Interestingly, in our hagiography of famous people we don’t usually notice or remember their siblings. George Harrison has a sister in Americaand American nieces and nephews. Paul McCartney’s brother was in the group The Scaffold. Elvis Presley had a stillborn twin brother. Adolf Hitler’s half-sister emigrated to America and his nephew was in the Second World War American Army. Joseph Stalin’s daughter is an American citizen, and Deng Xiaoping’s granddaughter also is a U.S. citizen. The famous and the infamous are individuals responsible for their own accomplishments, of course. But their families are an inseparable part of the recipe that makes them who they are.
A “biopic” is not a biography. Biopics are somewhat fictionalized for dramatic reasons, and that’s the case here. I mean, this film’s portrayal of Lennon’s boyhood life is not really factual, as any Beatlemaniac will know. The crisis in John’s life here is his discovery at 16 of his kindred-spirit mother. In reality, though, Lennon always knew his mother. She lived quite close to her sister, Mimi, and John saw her quite frequently. The reasons why Lennon grew up in his aunt’s home are another story.
Psychologically torn in his personal life - well, what teenager isn’t? - stinking of cigarettes and beer and rebelling against his restrictive school culture John forms his first group, a Skiffle group called The Quarrymen, through which he met Paul McCartney, and later Paul’s younger friend, George Harrison. Respect for the quality of each other’s musicianship is what brought them together despite their age differences - differences that are tremendously important for children, but not at all for adults. The story takes us right up to Lennon’s first sojourn to Hamburg’s nightclubs with The Beatles (featuring Pete Best behind the drum kit and John’s art school buddy, Stuart Sutcliffe, on bass), but doesn’t actually show it. And the name “Beatles” is never mentioned in the movie because that’s not what this film’s story is about. It’s about Lennon’s formative years and his entanglement with the women in his life. Indeed, John Lennon’s life was dominated by women. Four of them: his mother, Julia; his Aunt Mimi; his first wife, Cynthia; and, finally, his second wife, Yoko Ono.
Aunt Mimi is famous around the world for her advice that “the guitar is good enough for a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living at it.”
I love John Lennon. But for the record let’s not forget that he was a cruel, belligerent asshole in addition to his other qualities.
What made The Beatles so successful and so great? Yes, they were musical geniuses. Yes, much of what they did and accomplished was new and never done before, allowing them to establish trends, set standards and blaze a trail like no others. Yes, the timing of their American debut was important: John F. Kennedy was dead and Elvis, released from the U.S.military, was not reclaiming his rock ‘n roll throne. By good fortune they got George Martin to , and he stamped their finished work with an enduring quality. They were charismatic and endearingly personable. Personally, Lennon-McCartney complemented each other in a very special way - not only their musical senses, they humor, their intelligence, but otherwise with a certain je ne saisqua. They were like brothers (nicknamed “the Nurk Twins”). George Harrison and Ringo Starr fit in just the same, too. At first, to an untrained eye they even looked the same, and although they did not livecollectively they had a communal life together, as if all four Beatles were actually one person. That’s how close they were. And Nowhere Boy shows us the start of that relationship. I love John Lennon. But for the record let’s not forget that he was a cruel, belligerent asshole in addition to his other qualities. Nowhere Boy shows us that very well, too.
At first I had trouble understanding the actors’ Scouser accents, but slowly it came around. And, for the longest time I tried to remember why actress Kristin Scott Thomas’ face (Aunt Mimi) was so familiar. I finally got it when I remembered her as Fiona, from Four Weddings and a Funeral(1994, written by Richard Curtis and starring Hugh Grant).