Sam Taylor Wood’s first full-length feature film tells the story of John Lennon’s teenage years. The events took place only a kilometre from my home at the time, so they hold a special fascination for me. But whether or not you were alive in the 1950’s, and regardless of where in the world you may be living now, Lennon’s childhood experiences have – indirectly – affected you.
The film ends as he is preparing to go to Hamburg, and The Beatles are not mentioned by name, but they were about to shake the world in ways which nobody at the time could have foreseen. The credits soundtrack is Lennon’s Mother, an anguished elegy for his mum Julia. Her virtual abandonment of him caused so much pain, undoubtedly shaped his personality and – crucially – influenced his writing and his music. Perhaps this was the grit in the oyster, helping to produce the pearls which are the songs of Lennon and McCartney.
Of course it’s impossible to imagine how the world would look now if it hadn’t been for the impact of The Beatles. But whether you listen to their music or not, they were prime movers in a post-war revolution which changed Western society and the way we think about ourselves.
The film contained one or two anachronisms. Too much cigarette smoking, even for the 1950’s. Modern beer glasses, the word ‘band’ instead of ‘group’, and I don’t think ‘gig’ was in common usage. Also, before the sexual revolution, girls didn’t fuck boys, boys fucked girls. Some characters are completely omitted from the story.
However, Nowhere Boy does not try to be a completely faithful historical account. The actors are not made up to be look-alikes, and the locations are sympathetic rather than accurate replicas. This is an intelligent approach which works well, and avoids over-detailing which is inevitably distracting.
There are so many pitfalls when making a biopic, but Nowhere Boy avoids all of them. It’s incredibly moving, with an accomplished performance by Aaron Johnson as Lennon, and Kristin Scott Thomas as his somewhat repressed aunt Mimi. Anne-Marie Duff’s portrayal of the histrionic Julia Lennon, and David Morrissey’s Bobby Dykins are note-perfect too. A little gem of a film.