'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'
This short 1991 film is something of an oddity. It is one hour long, made within a week on a microscopic budget, yet is perhaps the most artistic film about the Beatles made to date. It is both a thoughtful and thought provoking film that is incredibly well acted – indeed, Ian Hart's performance as John Lennon in this film resulted in his reprising the role for the 1994 film Backbeat. David Angus' commanding but natural performance as Brian Epstein is outstanding, especially when he describes how a few years before he was attacked and blackmailed, and avoids the gay clichés that epitomised Brian Jameson's portrayal of Brian Epstein in Birth of the Beatles.
If the film wasn't about John Lennon and Brian Epstein, it would not be considered a Beatles biopic. Just John Lennon of the Fab Four appears in the film, and Cynthia Lennon only has a disembodied voice on the telephone. In the commentary, actor David Angus states that the reviewers said at the time that no-one would be interested in this film if it wasn't John Lennon and Brian Epstein and sadly this is quite likely the truth. Despite this, The Hours and Times was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, won the Special Jury Recognition award at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, and also won an award at the Berlin Film Festival.
|Ian Hart||John Lennon|
|David Angus||Brian Epstein|
Uniquely, unlike the opening caption of Birth of the Beatles which states how accurate that film is, the opening of The Hours and Times has a caption which emphasises the complete fictitious nature of the film:
Though partly based on events in the lives of Brian Epstein and John Lennon, the following film is entirely fictitious. The producers make no representation that any such events as are depicted in the film ever occurred.
Sensing that this caption is the opposite of the one opening Birth of the Beatles, the caption has black letters on a white background, rather than white letters on a black background as Birth of the Beatles had.
The film is set before the Beatles become famous in 1963, although the two characters that John and Brian meet, air stewardess Marianne and the Spaniard Quinones, have both heard of them. It is a film that answers the question, what if John Lennon and Brian Epstein had had an affair whilst in holiday in Spain? Of all 'what if' questions to ask the Fab Four this is perhaps less interesting than, say, what if John had never met Yoko?; what if Brian Epstein had lived? or what if John Lennon hadn't been murdered? Yet it is a question that an inexperienced director could film on a microscopic budget in under a week.
In The Hours And The Times very little actually happens, but what does happen is quite significant. It is the small, quiet moments that have the greatest meaning. For instance, twice Brian Epstein is seen taking sleeping tablets before going to bed – Brian died of a drug overdose on Sunday, 27 August, 1967. John has a telephone conversation with his wife Cynthia, in whom he appears distant and disinterested – an omen of their later divorce. A sequence in which John mimics Brian smartening John up, complete with Windsor-knotted tie, before John 'rebels' back to a scruffier look, signifies the changes that Brian was making with the band at the time. Brian and Paul McCartney were taking the group out of the leather trousers and jackets that they had always worn, replacing them with smart collarless suits. John has since stated:
There were great fights between him and me over not wanting to dress up. In fact he and Paul had some kind of collusion to keep me straight because I kept spoiling the image.
Cynthia Lennon in her autobiography A Twist Of Lennon, wrote:
[John said] 'Brian, do we have to? I hate suits, Brian... they'll think we're copying the Shadows'.
There are elements that betray the film's meagre budget. It begins with what amounts to home video footage of the city of Barcelona, in particular its architecture. Ian Hart's John Lennon wig is very poor and ill-fitting, and quite obviously fake hair. However, the locations used in the film are a triumph and help convey the film's claustrophobic atmosphere. The flight sequences, filmed on a real Comet aircraft in RAF Cosford Aerospace Museum, perfectly sets the 1960s scene, and the hotel rooms, with their authentic and original 1960s décor, capture the ambiance of the time and the claustrophobia perfectly. Indeed, the hotel scenes were filmed at the Avenida Palace Hotel in Barcelona, where they had stayed in the Master Suite on 3 July, 1965, for the final concert of their 1965 European tour.
Of all the Beatles biopics, it is closest to capturing the feel of A Hard Day's Night. This is not only because of the film's classy, black-and-white look and the witty dialogue, but mainly caused by the atmosphere of the film. In A Hard Day's Night the lads are seen trapped, either in a car, on a train or in a hotel room; similarly, The Hours and Times sees Brian Epstein and John Lennon trapped in their hotel room, foreshadowing the fate that the band's popularity would soon bring.
Curiously, one scene which closest resembles A Hard Day's Night is the infamous bath scene. In A Hard Day's Night, John is sat humming in the hotel's bath tub before his fictional manager comes in, puts his hand in the tub and pulls the plug. In The Hours and Times, John is sat playing the harmonica in the hotel's bath tub before his manager, Brian Epstein, put his hand in the bath tub. Admittedly, in The Hours and Times, Brian then proceeds to scrub John's back and give him a hug, events that do not occur in A Hard Day's Night.
The Truth Behind The Hours and Times
The film implies that John and Brian went on holiday to Spain for a weekend as John is under doctor's orders to take a relaxing break. In actual fact, John spent 12 days in Spain with Brian, but this was nothing to do with a doctor's recommendation.
At the time, John was going through a difficult period in his life. The Beatles were on the verge of their major breakthrough; this was destined to change John's life beyond all recognition. His home life in the last eight months had been extremely chaotic and stressful. In August 1962, shortly after learning that his girlfriend Cynthia had become pregnant, John and Cynthia married. John's aunt Mimi, who had named John and raised him since he was young, and many of his other relatives, refused to attend the wedding. In September 1962, Cynthia suffered a suspected miscarriage, and although the baby survived it was a traumatic episode for the couple. In February 1963 the band began their first UK tour, supporting Helen Shapiro, and recorded the Please Please Me album. In March the 'Please Please Me' single became their first Number One hit1. On 8 April, Julian Lennon was born with some difficulty caused by the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck. On 28 April, John and Brian left for their holiday in Spain. It is perhaps unsurprising that a young, immature father with a newborn son at home grabbed the opportunity to spend a peaceful, relaxing break abroad with a close friend who was, after all, Julian's godfather. As John later said: I wasn't going to let a baby get in the way. What a bastard I was!
It does not seem likely that John would wish to further complicate his life by starting a relationship with his manager. Also, had a relationship begun it would have ended during the holiday – John and Brian never went on a holiday alone together again nor did anything after that which could be interpreted to hint at a possible relationship between them.
Brian, when interviewed and asked about whether he had had a relationship with John, replied: It is simply not true2. Cynthia, John's wife, has said:
I didn't think anything about it. John said he'd been working very hard, with the concert tours and the album. He needed a break... You'd have to look a long way to find a more heterosexual man. The suggestion that he was anything else is too ridiculous for words.
Paul McCartney's view was:
Brian Epstein was going on holiday to Spain and Brian was gay. He invited John along. John, not being stupid, saw his opportunity to impress upon Mr Epstein who was the boss of the group. And I think that's why John went on holiday... He wanted Brian to know who he should listen to. There was never any hint that he was gay.
I slept in a million hotel rooms, as we all did, with John and there never was any hint that he was gay... Someone asked John once if he had ever tried homosexuality, John's crunching reply was: No, I haven't met a fellow I fancy enough.
The main reason that John and Brian's holiday in Spain has been the cause of so much attention is due to the events of Paul's 21st birthday party on 18 June, 1963. Many Liverpool musicians attended the party, and John Lennon, unsurprisingly for someone at a 21st birthday party, was extremely drunk. Bob Wooler, friend and Cavern disc jockey, had teased John about his holiday with Brian, including saying, How was the honeymoon, John? and John reacted by repeatedly kicking and punching him. John's response was initially to say, He called me a queer, so I battered his... ribs in. This commotion was reported in local newspapers, and John later stated, [I beat] up Bob Wooler at Paul's 21st party because he intimated I was homosexual. I must have had a fear that maybe I was homosexual to attack him like that and its very complicated reasoning. But I was very drunk and I hit him. When asked to explain what had happened on the Spanish holiday, John answered:
I was on holiday in Spain where the rumours went around that he [Brian Epstein] and I were having a love affair. Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated, but it was a pretty intense relationship. It was my first experience with a homosexual that I was conscious was a homosexual. We used to sit in a café in Torremolinos looking at all the boys and I'd say, Do you like that one? Do you like this one? I was rather enjoying the experience, thinking like a writer all the time: I am experiencing this. [...] We didn't have an affair, but I liked playing it a bit [gay], you know, and all that – it was quite enjoyable. There were big rumours in Liverpool. It was terrible, very embarrassing.
The title is based on the second line from Shakespeare's sonnet 57. The lines Being your slave what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desire symbolically represents Brian Epstein's unrequited feelings for John in the film.
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do any thing, he thinks no ill.