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Beatles Biopics

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Beatles Biopics
'Birth of the Beatles' | 'John & Yoko: A Love Story' | 'The Hours and Times'
'Backbeat' | 'Two of Us' | 'The Linda McCartney Story' | 'In His Life: The John Lennon Story'
'Nowhere Boy' | 'Lennon Naked'

Beatles biopics

Warning: These films contain Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

To date there have been seven main biopics made about The Beatles1. These films, made for wildly different budgets and for different purposes, nevertheless have several similarities in common.

YearFilmPeriod Covered
1979Birth of the Beatles
1959 – 1964
1985John & Yoko: A Love Story
1966 – 1980
1992The Hours and Times
1960 – 1962
2000Two of Us
2009Nowhere Boy
1955 – 1960
2010Lennon Naked
1964 – 1971

What Is A Biopic?

A biopic is a biographical picture, essentially a film that tells the life story of a real-life person or persons. Although a biopic often covers the whole of its subject's life, it can focus on specific periods, such as their childhood, or even a single event in their life. Similarly a biopic can cover the life of more than one person, provided their stories are interlinked.

Biopics are films or television dramas based on true events that attempt to tell the story of their subject's most important life moments. They share characteristics with other film genres, but have their own unique identity. They are different to docu-dramas, which are dramatised documentaries, often involving actors recreating scenes whilst a narrator describes the action that takes place. Other than possibly including captions at the beginning or end of the film, and captions stating the date, biopics do not involve narration. The drama itself tells the story. Films that include eye-witness interviews, evaluation of evidence or other documentary techniques are more likely to be docu-dramas.

The Importance Of Accuracy

With the genre of biopics, accuracy is considered to be a fundamental part of the drama. As the film purports to tell the life story of real individual, audiences expect the events portrayed in a biopic to be accurate and based on real events. A degree of dramatisation, compression of time, bias, merging several key characters into one or two for ease of remembering who everyone is, however, is allowed.

The demand for accuracy can be taken to an extreme level. Recently Nowhere Boy received criticism for John Lennon drinking, in a scene set in 1957, from a pint glass of a type not manufactured before 1960. Minor details like this which have no bearing on the plot are, to a large extent, irrelevant. However the main events of the characters' lives are of consequence, and the truth involved should be looked at and evaluated.

If a biopic intends to show events without a strong basis in truth, audience expectations are that the audience should be informed about how accurate the film is beforehand. This is why the Beatles biopics The Hours and Times and Two of Us open with captions explaining that they are only interpretations on what might have been. Explanations of how accurate the films are can be found in Birth of the Beatles, The Hours and Times, Two of Us and Lennon Naked. Further, John & Yoko: A Love Story, Backbeat, Nowhere Boy and Lennon Naked all close with captions which explain what happened next in the real lives of the central characters.


Half of the films have shown performances by the Beatles2, who are portrayed singing songs that they sang in real life. Two of the films concentrate on their Hamburg days. Although many of the songs the Fab Four performed in that era were later recorded by them or performed on radio, not all were. Some of the songs were later recorded by members of the group after they had split up. Three films contain genuine Beatles performances as part of the narrative. Backbeat contains the original recording that they made when backing Tony Sheridan's single of 'My Bonnie'.

Nowhere Boy (2009) starts with the opening chord from 'A Hard Day's Night' and ends with the song 'Mother' sung by John Lennon, and Lennon Naked (2010) has several Beatles and John Lennon songs.

Four films contain Beatles compositions. Birth of the Beatles has several Fab Four originals, including 'She Loves You', 'I Saw Her Standing There', 'Please Please Me' and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', as well as George Harrison's 'Don't Bother Me' and the John Lennon and George Harrison instrumental 'Cry For A Shadow'. There are several Beatles, John Lennon and Yoko Ono songs throughout John & Yoko: A Love Story. Similarly, Nowhere Boy contains one of John's earliest songs, 'Hello Little Girl', and one of Paul McCartney's earliest compositions, 'In Spite Of All The Danger'. Both of these songs have been released on the Anthology 1 album, and the versions in Nowhere Boy are very similar to the original recordings.

Here is a chart showing some of the main songs that the films contain, with the song, the film the song is found in or the soundtrack album it was released on, as well as the album that the song can be found sung by the group. Album and song titles in italics are albums or songs released by the lads individually after the Beatles split up.

SongFilm Soundtrack Or AlbumBeatles Album
'Ain't That A Shame'Nowhere BoyRock 'n' Roll – John Lennon3
'Bad Boy'Backbeat SoundtrackPast Masters Volume 1
'Be-Bop-A-Lula'Nowhere BoyRock 'n' Roll, Paul McCartney Unplugged
'Carol'BackbeatLive at the BBC
'Come Together'John & Yoko: A Love Story, Lennon NakedAbbey Road, Live in New York City – John Lennon
'God'John & Yoko: A Love Story, Lennon NakedImagine – John Lennon
'Hello Little Girl'Nowhere BoyAnthology 1
'Long Tall Sally'Birth of the Beatles, BackbeatPast Masters Volume 1, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2
'Love Me Tender'Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat, Nowhere BoyUnreleased by the Beatles
'Maggie Mae'Nowhere BoyLet It Be
'Money (That's What I Want)'Backbeat, Nowhere Boy, Lennon NakedWith the Beatles, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2, Live Peace in Toronto – John Lennon
'Mother'Nowhere Boy, Lennon NakedJohn Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
'My Bonnie'Birth of the Beatles, BackbeatThe Beatles featuring Tony Sheridan
'Peggy Sue'4Nowhere Boy, Lennon NakedRock 'n' Roll
'Please Mr Postman'Birth of the Beatles, BackbeatWith the Beatles
'Rip It Up'Nowhere BoyAnthology 3, Rock 'n' Roll
'Rock 'n' Roll Music'Birth of the Beatles, BackbeatBeatles For Sale, Live At The BBC
'Roll Over Beethoven'Birth of the Beatles, Nowhere BoyWith the Beatles, Live at the BBC, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2
'Shake Rattle & Roll'Birth of the Beatles, Nowhere BoyAnthology 3
'That'll Be The Day'Nowhere BoyAnthology 1
'That's Alright Mama'Nowhere BoyLive at the BBC
'Twenty Flight Rock'Backbeat, Nowhere BoyTripping the Live Fantastic – Paul McCartney
'Twist and Shout'Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat, Lennon NakedPlease Please Me, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2


CharacterBirth of the BeatlesJohn & Yoko: A Love StoryThe Hours and TimesBackbeatTwo of UsNowhere BoyLennon Naked
John LennonStephen MacKennaMark McGannIan HartIan HartJared HarrisAaron JohnsonChristopher Eccleston
Paul McCartneyRod CulbertsonKenneth PriceGary BakewellAidan QuinnThomas SangsterAndrew Scott
George HarrisonJohn AltmanPeter CapaldiChris O'NeillSam BellJack Morgan
Ringo StarrRay AshcroftPhillip WalshPaul DuckworthCraig Cheetham
Stuart SutcliffeDavid WilkinsonStephen Dorff
Pete BestRyan MichaelScot Williams
Cynthia LennonWendy MorganRachel LaurenceUncredited, voice onlyJennifer EhleClaudie Blakley
Yoko OnoKim MiyoriUncredited, voice onlyNaoko Mori
Brian EpsteinBrian JamesonRichard MorantDavid AngusRory Kinnear
Astrid KirchherrAlyson SpiroSheryl Lee
Mimi SmithEileen KennallyVal McLaneKristin Scott Thomas
George MartinNigel HaversJohn Sinclair
Julia LennonAnne-Marie DuffUncredited
Alfred 'Freddie' LennonColin TierneyChristopher Fairbank
Julian LennonPaul LockwoodCharlie Courthard
Pete ShottonJosh BoltAdrian Bower
Klaus VoormannKai Wiesinger
Derek TaylorMichael Colgan
Tony SheridanJames Doherty

Only Ian Hart, 'John Lennon' in The Hours and Times and Backbeat, has played the same role in more than one Beatles biopic.

Common Themes

There are several recurring themes between the films. Here is a list of some of the common characteristics:

Implication that John Lennon had either homosexual, inappropriate or dysfunctional relationships.The Hours and Times explores the possibility that he had a homosexual relationship with Brian Epstein and Backbeat that he had feelings both for his best friend, Stuart Sutcliffe, and his girlfriend Astrid. Backbeat also implies sexual chemistry with his best friend's widow, Astrid. Nowhere Boy implies an almost incestuous relationship with his mother. Two of Us shows John struggling in his relationship with his former best friend Paul McCartney, and having developed a strange relationship with his second wife Yoko Ono, whom he calls 'mother'. In Lennon Naked John has estranged relationships with his father, his son Julian (who he ignores) and his wife Cynthia. In John & Yoko: A Love Story not only does John ignore his wife Cynthia and son Julian, he encourages Yoko to kidnap her own daughter. Even his relationship with Yoko is dysfunctional and needs an 18-month separation to survive.

Ignore Ringo. Only Birth of the Beatles, John & Yoko: A Love Story and Lennon Naked have Ringo saying any lines. Just Birth of the Beatles has Ringo making any contribution to the plot.

Concentrate on John Lennon to the detriment of Paul McCartney. Considering Paul wrote more Beatles songs than John and led the group after the death of Brian Epstein (on 27 August, 1967), this does not seem fair.

Contain gratuitous sex scenes. These ideally include Astrid, or if Astrid is not in the film, they involve John Lennon. Nowhere Boy even includes a scene with John listening to his mother Julia having sex. Bath tubs and showers are also encouraged, with nude bath scenes in The Hours and Times and Lennon Naked. Astrid and Stu shower together in Backbeat.

Naked models. Naked artists' models are seen in both Birth of the Beatles and Backbeat, and are also referred to in Nowhere Boy.

Drug taking. Scenes of drug taking occur in Birth of the Beatles, John & Yoko: A Love Story, Backbeat, Two of Us and Lennon Naked.

Be a story of the group either before they were famous or afterwards. Only Birth of the Beatles, John & Yoko: A Love Story and Lennon Naked have scenes with them during the height of their fame.

A Hard Day's Night

Of course, the ultimate Beatles biopic is A Hard Day's Night, where they portray their own lives, with an immortal script by Alun Owen. It is true that much of it is fiction – Paul McCartney's clean grandfather, John McCartney5, as well as the characters of Norm and Shake are fictional, who replace their real equivalents of Neil Aspinall and Brian Epstein. In A Hard Day's Night, John Lennon isn't portrayed as being married6 and the Beatles' home lives are not portrayed. No mention of the lads outside their identity as 'Beatles' is presented in the film. Yet despite this, it is a classic, witty, beautifully shot and directed film that encapsulates and perfectly portrays the band at their height and quite rightly has strongly influenced every Beatles biopic made since.

Indeed, A Hard Day's Night and Help! earned director Richard Lester the MTV title 'Father of the Music Video'7. The band members themselves have been very positive about the film and its presentation of their lives:


A Hard Day's Night was like a day in the life, or, really, two days and two nights of our life. We'd go to the recording studio, then go to the TV studio, all the things that happened to us were put in.


That was a comic-strip version of what was actually going on. The pressure was far heavier than that. I dug A Hard Day's Night... it was a good projection of one façade of us – on tour, in London and in Dublin. It was of us in that situation together, having to perform before people. We were like that. Alun Owen saw the press conference so he recreated it in the movie.


Alun picked up lots of little things about us... Little jokes, the sarcasm, the humour, John's wit, Ringo's laconic manner; each of our different ways. The film manages to capture our characters quite well, because Alun was careful to try only to put words into our mouths that he'd heard us speak... I think he wrote a very good script.


Alun wrote a scene about us being harassed by the press – which was a real part of our daily duty. They would ask things like 'How did you find America?' and we'd say 'Turn left at Greenland'.

Influence of A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day's Night's influence can be felt in all the Beatles biopics. The press scene in Birth of the Beatles is a direct copy. The style and black-and-white approach in The Hours and Times is a conscious harking back too. Similarly, Backbeat's drinking scene uses similar dialogue.

Nowhere Boy's director Sam Taylor-Wood openly admits in the commentary for the film that she was inspired and influenced by A Hard Day's Night, the film that all other Beatles biopics are judged by and compared to. The opening dream sequence from Nowhere Boy, with John running to applause and the unmistakable opening chord, is a homage to the Beatles' film's opening sequence.

The famous scene in A Hard Day's Night where Ringo runs away and parades moodily by the canal side is also frequently homaged. In John & Yoko: A Love Story Yoko runs off and is found staring moodily at the sea in New York, Stuart Sutcliffe is found looking at a river in Hamburg in Backbeat and John Lennon stares at the Mersey when he learns the truth about his father and mother in Nowhere Boy.

In Two of Us too, the Beatles; first film's influence is felt. There is a strong feeling of claustrophobia in Two of Us, which like A Hard Day's Night is set in an enclosed space apart from a brief breakout into the outside world. When John and Paul escape into Central Park, it is reminiscent of the escape from the theatre. Where in the Beatles classic the Fab Four run, spin and link arms, Two of Us has the two stars linking arms and dancing round in circles. At the start of A Hard Day's Night Paul is disguised with a fake beard, and, in Two of Us in order to avoid recognition, Paul and John wear fake moustaches. The joy at seeing the outside world is met with an authoritarian authority figure's strict disapproval in both films – rather than a farmer, the authority figure in Two of Us are two policemen. Similarly, John Lennon is very rude to the mounted policemen who disapprove of their enjoying reggae music.

A Hard Day's Night's legacy is also visible in Lennon Naked, whose opening ten minutes are filmed in a similar style in black-and-white. The press scenes throughout the film owe a large debt to A Hard Day's Night's portrayal of the Beatles – it is almost as if no film is valid unless there is a press scene that gives them a chance to be sarcastic. Curiously it is Christopher Fairbank's representation of John's father Alfred in Lennon Naked that has the greatest debt to the Beatles classic. The presentation of the dishonest but lovable old rogue Alfred seems strongly indebted to Wilfrid Brambell's portrayal of the fictional character of dishonest but lovable old rogue John McCartney. Brambell's Steptoe And Son image also reflects Alfred Lennon's reality; Alfred was practically penniless at the time he met John again. To emphasise the connection between the fictional John McCartney and John's real-life father, John is seen meeting his father for the first time as an adult during the making of A Hard Day's Night.

Curiously, only A Hard Day's Night attempts to show a family life for Paul McCartney with the character of Paul's fictional grandfather. All other films concentrate on John Lennon's family almost to the exclusion of the others, although Backbeat does show George Harrison's mother.

Beatles Biopics
1There have been other made-for-television biopics about the Beatles either as a group or individually, most notably In His Life – The John Lennon Story, a John Lennon biopic made in 2000 that covers the same period as Nowhere Boy, and Birth of the Beatles. However, these are currently unavailable to buy on DVD.2Although in Nowhere Boy they are the Quarry Men rather than the Beatles.3Not to be confused with the 1970s American Beatles compilation album Rock 'n' Roll Music.4Paul McCartney has owned the publishing rights to Buddy Holly songs since 1971.5Paul's real grandfather was Joseph McCartney who died before Paul was born. He did, however, strongly encourage Paul's father James to play a musical instrument, and had strong views that music should be nourished and taken seriously.6Although George did meet his first wife, model Patricia 'Patti' Boyd, during filming.7Although Richard Lester declares that he wrote back requesting a paternity test.

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