'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'
John & Yoko: A Love Story is a television movie that probably has the worst title of any Beatles biopic. It is cheesy and over-sentimental, yet for better or worse it is an honest one. As it suggests, this film concentrates on John Lennon and Yoko Ono to the practical exclusion of all the other characters, and Yoko is given equal prominence to John during the time the film is set.
The film takes place between 1966 and John's death in 1980. The 14 years it covers is the longest time period of any Beatles biopic. Perhaps understandably this is the lengthiest biopic made up to the time of writing (May 2010). In many ways it comes across as a sequel to Birth of the Beatles, picking up only two years where the previous film left off. As Birth of the Beatles ended with the group at an American press conference, so John & Yoko: A Love Story begins with them being interviewed while trapped inside a hotel room. Scenes like this presumably are intended to emphasise how confining John was finding it to be to be a Beatle. This later contrasts with how much freedom and liberation he found his subsequent relationship with Yoko to have.
This confined nature of being a Beatle is perhaps most evident in a sequence reminiscent of the opening sequence of the film Help! In that film the high priest of an Eastern cult throws darts at a screen showing them singing 'Help!', however in John & Yoko: A Love Story it is a bomb that is thrown at them.
There is a humorous scene near the film's end in which Yoko is singing one of her compositions in the studio, and no-one pays attention. Such scenes, in presenting a flawed human being, help emphasise Yoko's strengths as well as the depths to which she was a victim of racist attacks.
|Mark McGann||John Lennon|
|Kim Miyori||Yoko Ono|
|Kenneth Price||Paul McCartney|
|Peter Capaldi||George Harrison|
|Phillip Walsh||Ringo Star|
|Richard Morant||Brian Epstein|
|Lou Hirsch||Allen Klein|
|Rachel Laurence||Cynthia Lennon|
|Val McLane||Aunt Mimi Smith|
|Matthew Marsh||Elton John|
|John Sinclair1||George Martin|
|Ray Charleson||Phil Spector|
|David Gilliam||Harry Nilsson|
|Ling Tai||May Pang|
|Catherine Strauss||Linda Eastman2|
|Paul Lockwood||Julian Lennon (15)|
|Bob Putt||Detective Sergeant Pilcher|
|Martyn Whitby||Mal Evans|
One of John & Yoko: A Love Story's greatest strengths, the number of characters within it, is also its biggest weakness. In trying to tell the whole story of what happened to John and Yoko between 1966 and 1980 and include everyone they met, very little room is left for any of the individual characters to develop or for the actors to get a grip of their roles. George Harrison and Ringo Starr suffer more than any others. Considering they spent the best part of the first four years in which the film is set with John, their characters' roles are reduced to wearing very obvious fake moustaches. The Paul McCartney character is little more than a stereotype.
Other key players have even less to do. Mal Evans appears in the background but has no lines, and Pete Shotton, John's best friend since childhood, despite being mentioned, does not appear at all. His non-appearance could be related to the fact that he and Yoko fell out in 1968.
The result of the plethora of characters is that unless you already know what happened in John's lifetime, it is difficult to keep track of who everyone is. Despite the 150-minute run time, in places the film does feel rushed.
A John By Any Other Name
The first actor hired to play John Lennon was known by his stage name Mark Lindsay. However, two weeks after being cast, it was discovered that his full name was Mark Lindsay Chapman. He was sacked because his name was considered to be too similar to that of Mark David Chapman, the man who had murdered John Lennon.
When Mark Lindsay was fired, John McMahon, Carson Productions' Executive Producer, stated:
I feel very badly for him because it's not his fault, but it would be bad form. I mean would you do the love story of John F Kennedy and Jackie Onassis with an actor named Lee Harvey Oswald playing Jack Kennedy?
Mark Lindsay3 has magnanimously stated:
I have no malice toward anybody at all... Of course I'm disappointed, I'm only human after all. The last thing I'd want to do is rake up bad memories for Yoko.
Twenty years later, in 2007, Mark Lindsay finally played John Lennon in Chapter 27, a film about the life of John Lennon's murderer Mark David Chapman.
Liverpudlian actor Mark McGann4, however, is a very good John Lennon. Yoko said of McGann's portrayal of John:
When Sean heard Mark's voice, it sounded so much like his dad that he freaked out.
Sean Lennon agreed, stating:
He looks like Dad with his glasses on and sounds like him.
McGann had a lot of experience playing John Lennon. This began when, for his first stage role, he played John in the first version of the musical Lennon in Liverpool's Everyman Theatre5. Although he was initially turned down for the role as he was considered, at 24, to be too young, after Mark Lindsay was rejected due to his real name, McGann was awarded the part.
McGann's reaction was to say:
I wept when I got the role. It's almost spiritual the way John Lennon has become intertwined in my life. I broke into the business playing John, and I grew up in Liverpool just a few miles from where he was born. Like John, I was a real rebel at school, and I taught myself to play guitar.
They didn't want a lookalike or a copycat. I think if you choose a double, the whole image can disintegrate the moment you open your mouth.
To prepare for the role, McGann researched John's character and consulted with people in Liverpool who knew him, including Bob Wooler6 and Charles Lennon, John's uncle7. He also visited Yoko at the Dakota Building in New York. After this research, he confessed:
I grew up to really like John Lennon. I think he was the most human of the geniuses. I mean, people could associate with John because he washed his linen in public so often and he made so many obvious mistakes. But he was a genius.
I decided to show Lennon warts and all; a man capable of snapping at any moment into an aggressive mood but also a man of great compassion. It was only in his later years that he learned humility – that was when he finally found happiness. Lennon never made any excuses but was always suffering great emotional pain. He was not a born leader but thought his grabbing a leadership role would give him the attention he desperately needed.
McGann and Californian actress Kim Miyori have an unmatched spark on screen, effortlessly convincing us that there is a real connection. This is due to art following truth: McGann and Kim began dating during the making of John & Yoko: A Love Story.
- 'Strawberry Fields Forever'
- 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'
- 'When I'm 64'
- 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)'
- 'Oh My Love'
- 'Oh Yoko'
- 'Revolution 9'
- 'Let It Be'
- 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'
- 'Give Peace A Chance'
- 'Yellow Submarine'
- 'You Never Give Me Your Money'
- 'Cold Turkey'
- 'John Sinclair'
- 'Attica State'
- 'Come Together'
- 'Yang Yang'
- 'Death Of Samantha'
- 'What You Got'
- 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night'
- 'Oh My Love'
- 'Watching The Wheels'
- 'Kiss Kiss Kiss'
- 'Beautiful Boy'
- 'Walking On Thin Ice'
- 'In My Life'
The soundtrack is one of the strengths of the film, and one of the advantages of having Yoko Ono's support of the film is that an unprecedented number of Beatles, John Lennon and Yoko Ono songs are on the soundtrack. Although the songs are versions of the Beatles and John Lennon classics, they are performed respectfully and are close reproductions of the original recordings. Yoko's own music is also greatly in abundance. The songs are not always shown in chronological order, but instead are often chosen to reflect the mood of the scene in which they appear. Some of these produce quite nice moments, especially the 'Watching The Wheels' montage with John changing Sean's nappy.
The choice of showing images of Richard Nixon grinning creepily whilst playing the line Got to be a joker he just do what he please from 'Come Together' is also rather effective, if overly political.
The Making Of John & Yoko: A Love Story
It took John J McMahon, Executive Producer of television company Carson Productions, eight months to arrange a meeting with Yoko to secure permission to make the film. After permission was granted, on condition that Yoko retained an overseeing role, the film took two years to make. In this time there were two title changes from the original Imagine: The Story Of John And Yoko. Yoko fired the first screenwriter Ed Hulme, as she felt he was making the film too sensational. Sandor Stern, who had directed The Amityville Horror, took over writing for the film, spending vast amounts of time with Yoko, researching it and getting her point of view. When originally sold on VHS Video in Britain it was released as John And Yoko: The Complete Story. It was first shown in America in December 1985 to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.
Mark McGann said:
The movie is a little glossy in places, but I don't think needed to be any nearer the knuckle. It's really a celebration of an amazing relationship – a relationship that was important to millions. It presents the facts and will tell Lennon's UK fans just why John and Yoko finally left this country.
Peter Capaldi8, who played George Harrison, later described his experience on making the film with the words,
I grew up with them [the Beatles]. I played George Harrison in a US Movie of the Week called 'John and Yoko: A Love Story'. I got taught how to play the guitar solo from 'Let It Be', which was fun.
Yoko Ono and John – The Real Story
John & Yoko: A Love Story does strongly attempt to show the truth of their relationship. There is a noticeable degree of bias in favour of Yoko, with events showing her in a positive light emphasised, outweighing those that do not.
Yoko is introduced with her 'Cut Piece' happening, in which members of an audience cut off her clothes. Her family life with her second husband Tony Cox and daughter Kyoko is also introduced. In this sequence Yoko's self-absorption is to the fore. Shortly after returning to New York, having dragged her husband and baby daughter to Japan and back, Yoko receives an invite to London. Within seconds she protests: This is very important to me, Tony, I want to go.
The iconic meeting of John and Yoko at the Indica gallery on 9 November, 1966, is faithfully reproduced, complete with John climbing a ladder to see the positive message 'Yes' through a magnifying glass. The nailing exhibit was there, as was the apple which John bit. Yoko described this incident with the words:
I had a very poetic piece – a fresh apple on a stand. [John] grabbed the apple and bit into it. I thought 'How dare he? That's my work!' I was totally livid. He noticed and went, 'Hee-hee' sheepishly and put the apple back on the stand.
Shortly after meeting John, Yoko did indeed make a film called Bottoms that showed 365 naked bottoms.
One thing that isn't accurate is the Rolls Royce which John is seen in. In real life, John had his Rolls Royce painted in a psychedelic pattern, as shown in Lennon Naked, and not plain white as John & Yoko: A Love Story shows. Similarly, John erroneously claims that his mother Julia was a cinema usherette. Although Julia did describe herself as a cinema usherette on her wedding certificate for a whim, as she and her new husband, Alfred Lennon, celebrated their marriage by going to the cinema, she never actually worked in a cinema in all her life.
The film also claims that the reason that John did not attend Yoko's 'Half Wind' exhibition was because of Brian Epstein's death. Epstein was found dead on 27 August, 1967, whereas the exhibition was held between 11 October and 14 November in 1967. When John informs Cynthia that he wants a divorce, Cynthia simply nods. This comes across as unrealistic, in a manner suggesting Yoko's influence to portray Cynthia as someone either not really in love with John, or, more likely, apparently accepting and acknowledging the greater love John has for Yoko.
John And Yoko – The Early Years
The film does not always present Yoko in a flattering light. For a start she is shown to be incapable of making tea, explaining that she had always had servants to make tea for her. Yoko has a full-blown tantrum at the Bishop of Coventry. This scene is set in June 1968, at the National Sculpture Exhibition at Coventry Cathedral. Yoko had been told by the unfortunate bishop that he did not consider spending a couple of minutes putting a couple of acorns9 in the ground the same as spending weeks and months sculpting, moulding and chiselling to create an individual and unique sculpture. Also, the church did not approve of two people married to other partners using the church as a means of advertising their adulterous affair. Peter Brown, the Beatles assistant at Apple and best man at John's wedding to Yoko, described the incident by saying:
Yoko turned into a spluttering little volcano of rage. She launched into a red-faced harangue, insisting that all the leading sculptors in England to testify to the validity of her acorn idea.
In the end, two acorns were planted at the Cathedral's Unity Lawn – not consecrated ground, symbolising the Church's disapproval. The acorns were called Yoko by John and John by Yoko, and were supposed to gradually grow into trees, but were stolen soon after being planted.
As John & Yoko: A Love Story shows, John and Yoko moved in to Ringo's basement flat at 34 Montague Square. On 18 October, 1968, John and Yoko were indeed arrested for drug possession. John had been tipped off that the police would be coming to search the premises and took efforts to ensure that all traces of his drug use were removed. However, at 11:30am Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher of the Scotland Yard Drug Enforcement Squad raided and found a lot of cannabis. Pilcher famously frequently arrested celebrities for drug possession. His ticklist of arrests includes Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and George Harrison on the day of Paul McCartney's wedding. John and George always maintained that the drugs that Pilcher found were planted. Pilcher was himself arrested and imprisoned for two years for 'conspiracy to pervert the course of justice' when he was found planting evidence in other cases. John was to describe the incident with the words:
Some of the pop stars had dope in their houses, and some didn't. It didn't matter to him. He planted it. That's what he did to me. He said, 'If you cop a plea, I won't get you for obstruction, and I'll let your missus go'.
Yoko was pregnant at the time, although she did go to Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital, where she had a stillbirth.
The presentation of the 'Let It Be' sessions effectively recreates the footage shown in the Let It Be film. This includes the famous George Harrison argument after which he briefly left the band, but it comes across as all but emotionless. John and Yoko waltz in the background. These are intended to be nice touches to those in the know, but add little to the plot and merely repeat events of the Beatles' own documentary.
The film shows more of Yoko and Kyoko's story than John and Julian's, with Julian being practically ignored throughout. John is not seen to show remorse at having left Julian, yet encourages Yoko to kidnap her daughter Kyoko, bringing up his childhood choice between father and mother that is at the heart of Nowhere Boy and Lennon Naked. One scene in which both Kyoko and Julian are present involves their joint Scottish holiday with John and Yoko. In this, after singing 'Yellow Submarine' in the car, John loses concentration and control and crashes. Whether this was a comment by Yoko on Paul's song being 'car crash music' is another matter. However, this incident did indeed occur.
That Yoko was not invited to play at the Concert for Bangla Desh [sic] that George Harrison arranged is true, however this occurred shortly before the start of the concert rather than months in advance as portrayed. In her rage at being excluded, Yoko allegedly snapped John's glasses.
Yoko's point of view of her life with John is expressed with the words:
I used to be Yoko Ono the artist, Yoko Ono the woman, the person. All that's been lost in England. I'm simply the Japanese girl who took John Lennon from his wife, broke up the Beatles, turned Lennon into an eccentric radical. That's how I'm perceived. I will never be forgotten or forgiven.
Sadly the last third of John & Yoko: A Love Story, the section set in New York, becomes needlessly political, concentrating on anti-Richard Nixon propaganda rather than the story of John and Yoko. The obsession with 40 year old American politics is linked with some of John and Yoko's protest songs, namely 'John Sinclair' and 'Attica State'10, as well as John and Yoko becoming paranoid that they were being spied upon. Having shown how John and Yoko got together, the narrative meanders for a bit, waiting for their separation that John later nicknamed his 'Lost Weekend' after the title of a 1945 film.
The 'Lost Weekend' section of the film, where John and Yoko separated, concentrates on portraying John as drunk and out of control without Yoko, and desperate to get back with her. His relationship with May Pang is glossed over and considered a meaningless affair. However, it was May Pang's influence which reunited him with Julian, other family members including his half-sister Julia, and friends such as Paul McCartney. May Pang has said that John was seriously considering divorcing Yoko to be with her, something which this film does not even hint at. Fortunately Elton John's role in bringing John and Yoko back together is nicely played, without coming across as name-dropping.
The sequence with the birth of Sean is perhaps the most dated, showing as it does John inside the hospital corridor smoking next to a large 'No Smoking' sign. John, by smoking inside a hospital ward and not being by Yoko's side during the childbirth, comes across as rather an uncaring father and husband by 21st Century standards.
Mark McGann commented on the film by saying:
It was important to tell the story as it actually happened, particularly for British viewers.
Yoko And Kyoko
Yoko's relationship with her daughter Kyoko, one of the John & Yoko: A Love Story's subplots, is a surprisingly moving tale. After divorcing her second husband Tony Cox, Yoko left Kyoko with Tony, who effectively raised her on his own. Yoko, having been all but ignored by her mother in the early stages of her life, was doing the same with her own daughter. John and Yoko did spend time with Kyoko when she was six in May 1969 until the car crash.
After her first miscarriage, Yoko suddenly wanted Kyoko back, yet Tony and Kyoko had disappeared. Yoko wrote the song 'Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)' at this time, and detectives were hired to locate them. They were found attending a meditation course by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Majorca. This is when John and Yoko kidnapped her, with Kyoko requesting to return to the father who had raised her. Although Yoko was allowed joint custody, Tony and Kyoko vanished and were not found again until December 1971. Tony claimed in court that when they were married, Yoko was frequently violent and had attacked and stabbed him with scissors and threatened him with broken bottles held at his throat. He also claimed that John would frequently bath naked with Kyoko. Tony was again granted temporary custody with Yoko allowed visiting rights, which Tony refused to grant. After a five day jail term for not allowing Yoko access to Kyoko, Tony and Kyoko disappeared again.
During John's fight to stay in America, the FBI claimed that it was all an elaborate fraud and conspiracy to keep the child hidden as a tool to delay deportation proceedings. From 1972 until 1977 Tony and Kyoko were hiding as members of the Church of The Living Word, after which time she attended school under the name of Ruth Holman. In 1979 Kyoko did indeed tell Yoko that she hoped to visit at Christmas, but then did not turn up. Yoko was finally reunited with Kyoko in 1995:
She finally got in touch. We were getting calls from people all the time claiming 'I'm your daughter' and there would be a photograph of some blonde, blue-eyed woman, but the first time I heard Kyoko's voice I knew it was her.