TV Review – Lennon Naked

In contrast to the nostalgic tone of Sam Taylor-Wood’s Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, BBC Films’ Lennon Naked is a refreshingly unflattering portrait of the musician, at his most narcissistic and petulant.

Christopher Eccelston (Amelia, G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra) depicts John Lennon during the years 1967 to 1971, when the creative energy at the heart of The Beatles was starting to wane, and Lennon was to begin his own creative pursuits.

At a BAFTA screening, Eccleston said, “I wasn’t a fan. He was deeply flawed as a human being, and in making this film I found that I loved him more but also thought much less of him”

The film opens with an obvious tribute to Gilbert Taylor’s black and white cinematography from A Hard Day’s Night. We see Lennon and manager Brian Epstein (Rory Kinnear, last seen in Quantum of Solace) take a car to a press-organised reunion with Lennon’s long-absent father, who wishes a reconciliation with his son. Writer Robert Jones’ dialogue successfully emulates the caustic wit that Lennon was known for, as Epstein is repeatedly taunted about his sexuality, and everyone else feels the sharp side of Lennon’s tongue.

Eccleston does a good job with the accent, but more importantly finds the attitude of the man. Occasionally though, perhaps due to the actor’s aquiline features, I unfortunately caught glimpses of another famous Liverpudlian, Lily Savage (sorry Chris, I couldn’t help it). The other Beatles fare less well, save perhaps Ringo. George’s accent barely registers as recognisable, and Andrew Scott as McCartney veers into an odd, disconcerting nasal bass. I hope that doesn’t conjure images of a Hofner inserted into a nostril, but it might possibly have sounded more convincing.

The film makes an intriguing psychological sketch. Eccleston envisaged Lennon as someone who “would throw a hand grenade into his life to shake it up” and Lennon’s bitterness comes through as he seeks to recreate himself without remorse for those in the firing line, be it his wife, his father or the brotherhood of The Beatles. It is seemingly not good enough that he destroys the world for himself, he has to destroy it so that no-one else can have it either. “The Beatles is my band, I created it!” he retorts when told that McCartney has publicly ended the band.

Naoko Mori portrays a suitably mysterious Yoko Ono, who many Beatles fans blamed for taking Lennon away from them, but is sympathetically portrayed as someone who inspires Lennon???s new identity as an artist. The film makes the focus of Lennon???s torment his father, but credit to Jones and director Ed Coulthard, the blame lands on both pairs of shoulders.

Fans will spot references in the form of Lennon lyrics dropped into dialogue. The Hard Day’s Night intro and an image of a naked Lennon curling up in a foetal position around Ono are also subtle additions. Despite a few minor flaws with bootleg Beatles, it???s an accomplished and necessary addition to the growing Lennon filmography.

Lennon Naked screens on BBC4 this June.

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