Thursday, 24 June 2010

Lennon Naked, BBC Four

Here's a review of last night's Lennon Naked, written by Robert Jones and starring Christopher Eccleston, that I wrote for Orange. Eccleston was as compelling as ever, but - as I say below - he was a bit too old to pull off the role totally convincingly. When he got out of his Rolls after the evening with Brigitte Bardot, he looked more like Frank Gallagher.

From a screenwriting point of view, it got me thinking about the difficulties of writing a script based on true events or someone's life story: when you're constructing an original story, you're manipulating and ordering events at will to create the maximum emotional effect. 

However when the events are already laid out for you, I guess the challenge becomes how to pick and focus on the key aspects of those events to support the theme or thesis you're trying to present about the subject. (Plus, of course, how you tweak the details, while staying true to events, in order to make them fit your angle on the story better.)

I think the film is being repeated tonight, and might show up again on BBC Four over the next couple of weeks. Otherwise, it should be available on iPlayer for a while.

BBC press pack, including comments from Robert Jones and director Ed Coulthard
BBC TV blog: Robert Jones on his writing process for the film

BBC Four has made a bit of a name for itself with its dramatised biographies, and last night it was the turn of John Lennon – played by Christopher Eccleston – to squeeze in between Kenneth Williams and Enid Blyton. However, the ambitious film was a bit hit and miss – more 'The White Album' than Revolver. 

Apart from a brief prologue, the film focused on the later years of The Beatles' career after the sudden death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967. Financial and creative tensions started to tear the band apart, and Lennon eventually walked out of the UK, never to return, to start a new life in New York.

Naturally the main focus was on Lennon's character, as he used primal scream therapy in his attempt to come to terms with both the separation of his parents and the traumatic part he'd been forced to play in it as a seven-year-old, when they'd asked him to choose which of them he wanted to live with.

However, Lennon Naked tried to be several films in one, and it felt at times as if it was spreading itself a bit too thinly. As well as Lennon's troubled reunion with his father (Christopher Fairburn), we also saw him rowing with Paul McCartney (Andrew Scott), the start of his all-consuming relationship with Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori) and the ruthless ditching of his first wife Cynthia (Claudie Blakely).

It's clear that for all his musical genius, Lennon was a nasty piece of work – something that Eccleston captured well, despite being a bit long in the tooth to play Lennon in his 20s convincingly. Unfortunately we had to take the "genius" bit for granted; the film passed over what The Beatles were creating in the studio at the time, and apart from his tenderness towards Yoko, we didn't see much else to redeem him.

Nevertheless, the film was engaging and enjoyable, and the rest of the cast did a good job – especially Naoko Mori as the serene, bewitching and unjustly abused Yoko. But it was like peeping through a keyhole; there was so much going on during those years that we only got the briefest of glimpses at the complexity of Lennon's life and character.

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