Artist Sam Taylor-Wood turns feature director with Nowhere Boy, a portrait of John Lennon as a rather sulky young man. Adapted by Control writer Matt Greenhalgh from a memoir by Lennon’s half-sister Julia Baird, Nowhere Boy focuses on Lennon’s adolescence as he forms skiffle-band The Quarrymen with Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) as a creative escape from a dour family tug-of-love involving his Aunt Mimi (Kirsten Scott Thomas) and mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff).
Handsome newcomer Aaron Johnson (who be Taylor-wood’s boyfriend during filming and is now her fiancée) is the rather unlovely Lennon, Taylor-Wood serves up a series of gleaming 1950’s period tableaux via cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, but Nowhere Boy falls well short of the mark in terms of evoking Lennon’s rebellious spirit, even in a nascent form. Although he claims a love of writing poetry and short stories, there’s little evidence here of Lennon’s caustic wit or imagination; instead he mopes around with a sullen glare, endlessly whinging about his lot and rewarding his friends with head-butts and punches. In attempting to pare down the familiar trappings of Lennon as an artist, Taylor-Wood and Greenhalgh have also stripped away his acerbic personality.
Nowhere Boy is at least an engaging if conventional biopic, allowing the audience to spot elements familiar from any Beatles biography, from the opening twang of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to a trip to Strawberry Fields. But when the drama finally turns up in the final third, it’s pure grim-up-north melodrama, with Lennon shrilly hectoring his over-protective guardians while a perfunctory flashback unfolds to explain his murky origins.
The women come off best here with Scott Thomas and Duff inhabiting their roles with contrasting portraits of buttoned-down morality and erratic free-spirit respectively, but the hole in the heart of Nowhere Boy is Johnson; shorn of Lennon’s rapier wit, Johnson comes over as just another moody pretty-boy, railing at the world to conceal his lack of self-understanding. Nowhere Boy is clearly a labour of love, but while Lennon may not be turning in his grave, he’d be unlikely to empathise with, or even recognise this pallid version of himself.
Selected release from Sat 26 Dec.