Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great Beatles biopics. 1994’s Backbeat and 2009’s Nowhere Boy are both excellent in their own way, albeit narrow in scope. With the success of the full biopic in recent years, following Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, is it now time for a full on Beatles biopic?
Backbeat follows the story of the early Beatles in Hamburg from around 1960 to 1962. The emergence of The Beatles and their music is the backdrop to the film, rather than it’s main focus. The film looks primarily at the interaction of John Lennon and his friend Stuart Sutcliffe. Stuart becomes less and less interested in music and more interested in art, which was probably no bad thing because he was not the most gifted of musicians, so his stint in the band caused friction with other band members.
There is a lot here for Beatles fans. Klaus Voormann appears in the film when he comes to see The Beatles play and he also brings his girlfriend Astrid Kerchherr. As Beatles fans will know, both of these characters go on to play a role in The Beatles’ development. Astrid gets together with Stuart. She is a gifted photographer and her photos of The Beatles from this time remain iconic. She is also credited with developing the Beatles style and fashion, including the so called mop top haircuts. Klaus Voormann obviously didn’t hold too much of a grudge about a Beatle taking away his girlfriend as many years later he went on to design the cover of the Revolver album. He also became a musician in his own right as bassist with Manfred Mann. The most powerful aspect of the film however is when Stuart dies of a brain haemorrhage , aged just 21. The impact of this death on Lennon in particular was significant and played a part in the development of his musical works.
Nowhere Boy is set even earlier in time than Backbeat. Here we see John Lennon as an adolescent from 1955 to 1960 living with his aunt Mimi. He gets on better with his Uncle George than he does with the somewhat austere Mimi, but George dies early in the film. John gets to know his mother, Julia, after a friend tips him off that she only lives nearby. Although Julia seems somewhat unstable and ill suited to bringing up children, their relationship flourishes and she is credited with introducing him to music by teaching him how to play the Banjo and encouraging his independent spirit. Towards the end of the film we even see that Julia and Mimi appear to heal their rift. However, once again things take a turn for the worse when Julia is knocked over and killed by a car.
Again, despite it’s relatively narrow scope, there is much here for the Beatles fan. One of the most talked about events in the Beatles story, namely the 1st meeting of John and Paul, is depicted. John is playing his 1st gig with his band, The Quarrymen, at Woolton Village Fete. After the show, John meets Paul, who auditions for the band by playing a version of ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. We also see George introduced to the band via Paul and George gains entry by playing the song ‘Raunchy’ in his audition.
As good as they are neither of these films could be described as a full on biopic, along the lines of the more recent Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody films. They both look at a specific aspects of the fledgling Beatles story and both films end before The Beatles achieve any real success. There is no real focus on their musical and songwriting development, other than the implication that John’s more introspective style was influenced by the tragedies that befell him in his youth.
Why do we need a full Beatles biopic?
The Beatles original success was in part due to Europe’s baby boomers needing some post war joy. Rationing dragged on into the mid 1950’s in the UK and the production and availability of many things remained depressed for several more years. The 1960’s was when the baby boomers reached their teenage years and early 20’s and they were more than ready to let their hair down. The USA joined the party a little later needing a lift after Kennedy was shot. Surely, a post Coronavirus world needs this lift just as much!
One obstacle will be the rights issues as Apple are notoriously protective of the rights to Beatles songs……have you ever noticed The Beatles do not feature on 60s compilations?
Another issue is the sheer size of the subject. In Backbeat and Nowhere Boy you have 2 full length films and they still do not reach the point in the narrative where the Beatles start to have real success.
There is also the fact that there is currently a virtual standstill in the film industry with many projects shelved due to filming restrictions and many cinemas around the world closed down.
They do say however that necessity is the mother of invention and it is certainly the case that a post coronavirus world will need an injection of joy just as earlier generations needed one to overcome the vicissitudes of life they faced. A 2012 NME article listed the 50 most uplifting songs, with number one being The Beatles Here Comes The Sun. The NME were quoted as saying that “George Harrison’s song bottles the feeling of the first days of spring. Just listening to it puts a spring in your step”. A full on Beatles biopic could be just what the world needs!