fri 22/11/2019

Lennon Naked, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Lennon Naked, BBC Four

Lennon Naked, BBC Four

Christopher Eccleston plays John Lennon, but not as we know him

Speak better Scouse: Christopher Eccleston as John Lennon gives the press a good talking to

Films about rock stars usually fail, because it's impossible to recreate whatever larger-than-life qualities made them unique and famous in the first place. You frequently end up with a slightly embarrassing party-piece impersonation that captures some of the mannerisms but misses the essence of the character.

John Lennon continues to exert a strange fascination for film-makers, doubtless because he's the Martyred Beatle, but previous biopics have shrewdly homed in on lesser-known aspects of his life, so you weren't constantly comparing the celluloid version with what you knew of the real person. Sam Taylor-Wood's excellent Nowhere Boy dissected the pre-Beatles Lennon, while I'd wager that nobody will surpass Ian Hart's uncanny performance in the Hamburg-era flick, Backbeat.

There was hardly any sense of the Lennon in the film being involved in music at all

But Lennon Naked took the plunge into full-force Beatledom, dropping in on strategic moments of the Moptop saga between 1964 and 1971. Christopher Eccleston certainly looked like his subject - except for the unavoidable fact that Eccleston, at 46, is too old to play Lennon in his twenties - and he'd obviously been poring over his copy of Speak Better Scouse until the pips squeaked. When his long-lost and woefully wayward dad Freddie (Christopher Fairbank) reappeared after a 17-year absence, unleashing John's black torrent of primal pain and emotional angst that were the film's theoretical subject, it threatened to go all Harry Enfield ("are youse sayin' our mam's better'n'our nan? Ay? Ay? Ay?" etc). Only the orange Afros were missing.

Actually a bit of frivolity might have worked wonders, because over its 90-minute span Lennon Naked progressively suffocated in its own earnestness. We know Lennon could be vicious and acerbic, but he also wielded a savage wit which wasn't captured here. In scenes which laboriously sought to reconstruct Beatle press conferences, Lennon was seen hectoring the press like some drab cultural commissar, when his real-life performances were gleefully skittish and surreal. This Lennon was so bitter, angry and dessicated that he seemed like a lonely failure approaching the end of his life, rather than one of the planet's most celebrated artists going through a patch of professional and emotional turmoil.

Use of newsreel footage to anchor the timeline became more damaging than helpful, because it kept offering little flashes of the charismatic aura that surrounded the slightest manifestation of Beatledom, which promptly vanished again when we returned to the fictional action. Though Beatle and Lennon music featured on the soundtrack, there was hardly any sense of the Lennon in the film being involved in music at all, other than a scene where he improvised some peculiar noises with Yoko Ono. And on the topic of bad impersonations, whoever cast the other three Beatles deserves either the sack or at the very least a new pair of specs. Homer Simpson would hardly have looked less like Ringo and George Harrison than the actors who'd been cast, while the one I'm pretty sure was McCartney did a kind of arch, plummy-voiced turn that recalled Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys at his most pontifical.

Above all, there was a deathly emptiness at the heart of Lennon Naked which made it a real struggle to sit through it to the end. It was as if Lennon existed in a personal vacuum punctured only by occasional appearances by his despised first wife Cynthia (Claudie Blakley), his thuggish driver who looked like Vinnie Jones, and a mate called Pete. Then he met Yoko, and there was only John and Yoko. Lennon's climactic confrontation with an understandably uncomprehending Cynthia had him speaking the kind of lines you might think of a couple of days after you've had an argument with someone, and wish you'd actually said at the time - "I must have loved you once but I don't any more," or "You or her? Then it's her. Have it all. You won the pools."

Perhaps the problem with Robert Jones's screenplay was that it tried to reconstruct Lennon from the outside, using sources like Jann Wenner's Lennon Remembers interviews, rather than taking greater licence to find a more poetic kind of truth. Whatever the reasons, I couldn't believe in this self-obsessed, primal screaming John Lennon as pop star, counter-culture icon, FBI surveillance target and all-round upsetter of applecarts. I'm off to read Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head again to make me feel better.

Watch a clip from Lennon Naked

 
Whoever cast the other three Beatles deserves either the sack or at the very least a new pair of specs

Share this article

Comments

This was an insult to my friend John Lennon. You can't stick a palstic nose and a white suit on someone and expect to portray a complex personality like John Lennon. As someone who grew up in that era, the writers seem to have avoided placing it in it's social context. All I saw in that portrayal was a lot of bitterness. For any young person watching that who dosen't know much about him or the era, he would come over as an uncaring, bitter, drug-addict, which he wasn't. The people who remember it can fill in the missing parts. I was a young woman growing up in Edinburgh during the John and Yoko years and I loved her as did a lot of other like minded people who thought outside the box, even then. John had a more sensitive side which was totally missed out in this portrayal and a brilliant sense of humour. The drama did nothing to provide the viewer with any background to Yoko Ono. The film we saw before it on the Top of the Pops archive, shows us his sense of humour and caring side. None of us are perfect. I was and am also a Beatles fan and of course it caused hurt like any break-up. They were all ready to go there own ways, John was brave enought o make it happen. I remain a devoted fan of all of them. Paul's recent concert at Hampden is an example of how alive they still are and of the respect and love they had for each other. Ann Scott Taylor B.A. hons,

At least John had the sensibility to make a peaceful statment with his life. Imagine him not even caring about the world with his abilities, it would of been a shameful waste. So in the end, I think he deserves a humanitarian award.

Sorry but as a huge Lennon fan and admirer of Eccleston I thought this program was pants. All was rushed and superficial, a disappointment and the casting director needs a new brain, what in the universe were the other Beatles? As many other films proved you don't need to LOOK like any of them to portrait them well, but those were just awful. Mind you, it was better than watch the endless sports and soaps and reality shows, but next time I'll just put Backbeat on!

this was disturbingly bad. The portrails of all were cartoon like ( one dimensional). You cannot expect to capture a man as complex (or fucked up) as Lennon in a matter of 1 1/2 hours. And when you add that it was over a period of personal turmoil for the protagonist that 67-71 undoubtedly was for him, just adds to incongruousness. One thing that i think it did capture, all be it in a minimal sense, was that lennon wanted to be more talented than he was IE not just the true equal to paul but more than the dylan wonnabe infatuation with a jesus complex that he truly was ... when in fact he couldn't even got tagged with the lesser JUDES! mantle

.....Except Pet Shop Boy Neil tennant isn't as annoying or self obsessed as Paul McCartney, whilst still managing to sell loads more new records(20 years in to his career) than Macca ever did

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.