'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'
Warning: These films contain Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll
|1979||Birth of the Beatles|
|1985||John & Yoko: A Love Story|
|1992||The Hours and Times|
|2000||Two of Us|
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.
|Song||Film Soundtrack Or Album||Beatles Album|
|'Ain't That A Shame'||Nowhere Boy||Rock 'n' Roll – John Lennon3|
|'Bad Boy'||Backbeat Soundtrack||Past Masters Volume 1|
|'Be-Bop-A-Lula'||Nowhere Boy||Rock 'n' Roll, Paul McCartney Unplugged|
|'Carol'||Backbeat||Live at the BBC|
|'Come Together'||John & Yoko: A Love Story, Lennon Naked||Abbey Road, Live in New York City – John Lennon|
|'God'||John & Yoko: A Love Story, Lennon Naked||Imagine – John Lennon|
|'Hello Little Girl'||Nowhere Boy||Anthology 1|
|'Long Tall Sally'||Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat||Past Masters Volume 1, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2|
|'Love Me Tender'||Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat, Nowhere Boy||Unreleased by the Beatles|
|'Maggie Mae'||Nowhere Boy||Let It Be|
|'Money (That's What I Want)'||Backbeat, Nowhere Boy, Lennon Naked||With the Beatles, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2, Live Peace in Toronto – John Lennon|
|'Mother'||Nowhere Boy, Lennon Naked||John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band|
|'My Bonnie'||Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat||The Beatles featuring Tony Sheridan|
|'Peggy Sue'4||Nowhere Boy, Lennon Naked||Rock 'n' Roll|
|'Please Mr Postman'||Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat||With the Beatles|
|'Rip It Up'||Nowhere Boy||Anthology 3, Rock 'n' Roll|
|'Rock 'n' Roll Music'||Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat||Beatles For Sale, Live At The BBC|
|'Roll Over Beethoven'||Birth of the Beatles, Nowhere Boy||With the Beatles, Live at the BBC, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2|
|'Shake Rattle & Roll'||Birth of the Beatles, Nowhere Boy||Anthology 3|
|'That'll Be The Day'||Nowhere Boy||Anthology 1|
|'That's Alright Mama'||Nowhere Boy||Live at the BBC|
|'Twenty Flight Rock'||Backbeat, Nowhere Boy||Tripping the Live Fantastic – Paul McCartney|
|'Twist and Shout'||Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat, Lennon Naked||Please Please Me, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2|
|Character||Birth of the Beatles||John & Yoko: A Love Story||The Hours and Times||Backbeat||Two of Us||Nowhere Boy||Lennon Naked|
|John Lennon||Stephen MacKenna||Mark McGann||Ian Hart||Ian Hart||Jared Harris||Aaron Johnson||Christopher Eccleston|
|Paul McCartney||Rod Culbertson||Kenneth Price||Gary Bakewell||Aidan Quinn||Thomas Sangster||Andrew Scott|
|George Harrison||John Altman||Peter Capaldi||Chris O'Neill||Sam Bell||Jack Morgan|
|Ringo Starr||Ray Ashcroft||Phillip Walsh||Paul Duckworth||Craig Cheetham|
|Stuart Sutcliffe||David Wilkinson||Stephen Dorff|
|Pete Best||Ryan Michael||Scot Williams|
|Cynthia Lennon||Wendy Morgan||Rachel Laurence||Uncredited, voice only||Jennifer Ehle||Claudie Blakley|
|Yoko Ono||Kim Miyori||Uncredited, voice only||Naoko Mori|
|Brian Epstein||Brian Jameson||Richard Morant||David Angus||Rory Kinnear|
|Astrid Kirchherr||Alyson Spiro||Sheryl Lee|
|Mimi Smith||Eileen Kennally||Val McLane||Kristin Scott Thomas|
|George Martin||Nigel Havers||John Sinclair|
|Julia Lennon||Anne-Marie Duff||Uncredited|
|Alfred 'Freddie' Lennon||Colin Tierney||Christopher Fairbank|
|Julian Lennon||Paul Lockwood||Charlie Courthard|
|Pete Shotton||Josh Bolt||Adrian Bower|
|Klaus Voormann||Kai Wiesinger|
|Derek Taylor||Michael Colgan|
|Tony Sheridan||James Doherty|
Only Ian Hart, 'John Lennon' in The Hours and Times and Backbeat, has played the same role in more than one Beatles biopic.
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.