Lennon Naked is a BBC television drama about the life of John Lennon between 1964 and 1971. This was first broadcast in 2010, shown as part of BBC 4's Fatherhood season. Like many other Beatles biopics, it begins with a caption which states how accurate it intends to be:
'The following drama is based on real events, although some scenes are the invention of the writer'
This attempt at accuracy is further reinforced by a 'What Happened Next' card at the end:
On September 3rd 1971, John Lennon left the UK and flew to New York
He was never to return
The aura of authenticity is reinforced throughout the film by genuine Beatles film footage, which subliminally reassures the viewer that what they are seeing is true-to-life.
|Christopher Eccleston||John Lennon|
|Naoko Mori||Yoko Ono|
|Andrew Scott||Paul McCartney|
|Jack Morgan||George Harrison|
|Craig Cheetham||Ringo Starr|
|Christopher Fairbank||Alfred Lennon|
|Rory Kinnear||Brian Epstein|
|Claudie Blakley||Cynthia Lennon|
|Charlie Courthard||Julian Lennon|
|Adrian Bower||Pete Shotton|
|Michael Colgan||Derek Taylor|
Sadly Ringo and George are not on screen with any involvement in the plot long enough for any perception of characterisation to develop. The short appearance of Brian Epstein, however establishes him as almost the father figure John had always wanted. Brian is someone John could talk to, be embarrassed by and tease, but ultimately respect and trust. It is a shame that Rory Kinnear was not given more time to establish his character to see how strong a performance as Brian Epstein he could give. Perhaps the most disappointing character is Paul McCartney, who is played by someone for their lookalike quality. Andrew Scott's portrayal of Paul has him appear very drunk, stoned or stupid, slowly slurring his speech. Again, as with other Beatles biopics, at no point is any attempt to portray the strong song-writing team that made the Beatles so unique made.
Christopher Eccleston's performance as John Lennon is very strong when it comes to capturing his anger and sharp wit, yet we do not get to see any other side to John. Christopher Eccleston, most famous for playing the Ninth Doctor in science-fiction series Doctor Who described his approach to playing such a monumental character with the words,
'I'm not doing an impersonation of Lennon or trying to be "the real John Lennon". This is my version.'
Considering that Lennon Naked was part of the Fatherhood Season, the period it covers is interesting. The film ends in 1971, four years before the birth of John's second son, Sean. Similarly it strangely does not cover the whole of John's relationship with his own father. Their last meeting, which occurred in October 1970, which happened during the drama's timespan, is strangely downplayed and not given the prominence it deserves. This event is, however, referred to in the past tense in the film Two Of Us.
The film seems very disjointed in places, and is more a series of incidents in the life of John Lennon rather than being a continuous narrative. There is also the question of which Lennon is the film portraying? John, Freddie, Cynthia, Julian or Yoko? It doesn't tell the whole story of any of them, starting as the story of John rebuilding a relationship with his father, but halfway through Lennon Naked loses interest in the father/son storyline and instead becomes the story of how John and Yoko got together, a story covered in more detail in John & Yoko: A Love Story.
The film opens with a sequence of John Lennon underwater. Whether this symbolises an attempt at drowning, baptism, walking on water or possibly even Yoko Ono, whose name means 'Ocean Child', is unclear. Following this, the first ten minutes are in black and white. This may be meant to immediately inform the viewers that they should identify the time period this scene is set in as 1964 and the time of A Hard Day's Night, or an attempt to disguise the fact that Christopher Eccleston, the 46 year old actor is playing a 24 year old John Lennon. However, it is stylish and well shot, epitomising the black-and-white world that John lives in. The film revolves around how John faced black or white choices all his life – chose his mother or father, Cynthia or Yoko.
When Naked Lennon moves on to discuss Magical Mystery Tour, the move to colour is well timed, emphasising the psychedelic nature of the mid 60s film. When John informs Paul that Magical Mystery Tour will be 'the most expensive home movie ever made', he is predicting the reaction that the release of the film Imagine after his death would generate. The film Imagine was dubbed 'the most expensive home movie of all time'.
Many of the film's highlights are the press conferences, in which Christopher Eccleston shines as the sarcastic, quick-witted John Lennon. These sections are clearly influenced by A Hard Day's Night as well as the John Lennon documentary films Imagine and Just Gimme Some Truth, recreating some scenes from these. Although they do not provide any new aspects to John Lennon, they are enjoyable.
Later on in the film we see John Lennon naked in a bath. Whether this is supposed to symbolise cleanliness, John returning to the womb or is just to give Christopher Eccleston another chance to appear naked and therefore get extra publicity for nude scenes is unknown. It could simply be a reference to the bath scenes in A Hard Day's Night and The Hours And Times.
A missed opportunity seems to be how John's relationship with Julian is glossed over. This is rather a tragedy, especially considering how Lennon Naked was part of the fatherhood season. The scenes with Julian in are among the most heartbreaking of the entire film, with John repeatedly ignoring Julian or sending him away, whilst agonising over how he had been abandoned by his father when the same age as Julian.
|Broadcast Version||Retail Version|
There are two versions of Lennon Naked, with the soundtrack being the only difference between them. The version of Lennon Naked broadcast on BBC 4 contains a mixture of Beatles, Yoko Ono and John Lennon songs. These in effect provide a musical journey during the film, showing what music the Beatles and John Lennon were making at the time of the events taking place. This, the broadcast version of Lennon Naked, enjoys an unprecedented amount of genuine Beatles and John Lennon songs. Within six months of the use of the John Lennon composition 'Mother' over the end credits of Nowhere Boy the floodgates were opened, with three John Lennon and six authentic Beatles tracks on Lennon Naked broadcast version's soundtrack.
The version of Lennon Naked on DVD, however, has a completely different soundtrack, replacing all the Beatles songs either with John Lennon songs or background music. The John Lennon song 'Look At Me' replaces 'Come Together' over the opening credits. This provides a wonderful opening to a film on John Lennon's life, clearly emphasising what the film is about and what the audience over the next 80 minutes will be doing. Sadly the other replacements aren't as successful, in particular George Harrison's 'Within You And Without You' is replaced by unrelated Indian music.
The first ten minutes show John Lennon meeting his father for the first time in 17 years, since his father left him when he was 5. In reality, Freddie Lennon had contacted the Daily Sketch to arrange a meeting, which Brian Epstein agreed to. However, the meeting did not take place in a hotel with John, Brian, Freddie and the reporters present as Lennon Naked presents. Instead, it was on the set of A Hard Day's Night, where he met first Brian, then a room containing all four Beatles, before Paul, George and Ringo left for John to spend time with Freddie alone. As Lennon Naked shows, John was wary of Freddie, asking him what he wanted, to which Freddie replied 'nothing', just a chance to tell John that the papers weren't telling him the truth about what had happened when he was young. After ten minutes the meeting was over.
In 1967 John did indeed see his father again, as Lennon Naked portrays. John sent his chauffeur to pick him up and take him to his house, Kenwood, in Weybridge, Surrey. They hugged, John told him to forget the past. After staying for a short while, Freddie did indeed find Kenwood isolated and moved to a nearby flat at Kew, with a £10 a week allowance from John.
John's home, Kenwood, was very similar to how it was portrayed in Lennon Naked. It was a 27 room Mock-Tudor house which John bought for £20,000 and spent £40,000 on renovating, and a further £20,000 on building the indoor swimming pool shown in Lennon Naked. The staff there did indeed include Les Anthony, the chauffeur, housekeeper Dorothy 'Dot' Jarlett and suit of armour called 'Sydney', as well as a psychedelic Rolls-Royce. As Lennon Naked showed, he also had a studio. In Lennon Naked Cynthia criticises John for letting his father and friend, Pete Shotton, live there with them. In truth, Cynthia was the one who invited Freddie to stay, which he only did for 3 nights. It was Cynthia's mother, Lillian, who lived with them for a time. Pete Shotton did not actually live there, but lived an hour away on Hayling Island and frequently visited overnight. It was at Kenwood that John and Yoko, when Cynthia was away on a holiday, created the Two Virgins album, made love, and were discovered by Cynthia the following day.
Another section of the film deals with John Lennon's obsession with Brigitte Bardot. It is true that John had a life-size picture of Brigitte Bardot on his bedroom ceiling, collected from several issues of Reveille magazine, when a teenager and later had a framed picture of her in Kenwood. Many of his own paintings at art college featured women shaped and dressed like Brigitte Bardot. One of the reasons he first liked Cynthia when they met at college was her superficial resemblance to Brigitte Bardot. Cynthia has said,
'John's perfect image of a woman was Brigitte Bardot. I found myself fast becoming moulded into her style of dress and haircut.... Under [John's] influence…. The emphasis was on oomph! Long blonde hair... tight black sweaters, tight short skirts, high-heeled pointed shoes, and to add the final touch, black fishnet stockings and suspenders.'
After John met Brigitte, according to Pete Shotton John told him the following day,
'I was so nevervous that I dropped some acid before we went in and got completely out of my head. The only thing I said to her all night was "Hello", when we went to shake hands with her. Then she spent the whole time talking in French with her friends, and I could never think of anything to say.'
Derek Taylor's account agreed that he and John took LSD on the way there, and that Brigitte had expected to meet all four Beatles, and was surprised to just meet John. Brigitte knew little English and John knew no French, so little conversation took place although John did sing a couple of songs on a borrowed guitar.
Yoko Ono and John
Yoko Ono had pursued John for some time before the night they recorded Two Virgins. Yoko displayed her artwork in the Indica Gallery in 1966, knowing that Paul and John frequently attended there. Yoko contacted Paul to begin with, asking him for some Lennon and McCartney manuscripts, which Paul did not donate. John did attend the preview in November 1966, and Yoko gave him a card that said 'Breathe', to which John started panting.
The 'happening' event in Lennon Naked that John witnesses, where Yoko Ono's clothes were snipped off with scissors, was based on Yoko's 'Cut Piece', which took place in 1965.
Les Anthony, John's chauffeur, has said that John paid Yoko little attention that night, but that she ran after him when he left, although John and Yoko have said that they felt an immediate attraction and kinship. Yoko sent John a copy of her book Grapefruit to Abbey Road studios. She asked John to sponsor her next exhibition, which he agreed to, but did not attend. Yoko then frequently phoned Kenwood wanting to speak to John and even visited unannounced on occasions, usually at times when John was already out. Once she persuaded the housekeeper to let her in to make an urgent phone call, and she then returned the following day claiming she had lost a ring in the house. John did invite Yoko around in January 1968, where they made love as well as Two Virgins as Lennon Naked implies.
The famous line in Lennon Naked where Yoko says she is 'thinking about acorns' is based on the exhibition that Yoko did in June 1968, shown in John & Yoko: A Love Story where acorns were exhibited at the National Sculpture Exhibition at Coventry Cathedral. Two acorns were planted at the Cathedral's Unity Lawn. 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. In 1969 John and Yoko launched their 'Acorns For Peace' campaign. They posted several heads of state two acorns, requesting that they plant them for peace. Only two heads of state, Golda Meir of Israel and Pierre Trudeau of Canada, planted the acorns.
Lennon Naked accurately portrays John Lennon's 'You Are Here' exhibition at the Robert Fraser Gallery in July 1968. John did indeed release 365 white balloons - he had, as a child, found a balloon with a note attached, which he had found quite exciting. Many of the notes attached to the balloons, when returned to John, did indeed contain insults about Yoko. Among the exhibis were a large round canvas with the words 'You Are Here' in the middle, and, as Lennon Naked shows, a rusty bicycle donated from students from Hornsey College Of Art with the note 'This exhibit was inadvertently left out.'
When John and Yoko fell in love with each other in Lennon Naked, it is implied that Derek Taylor found them a new flat to live in. In fact, the basement flat at 34 Montague Square had been leased by Ringo Starr since 1965. After he married Maureen Cox and moved into a family home he let Paul McCartney use it as a studio in 1966. Ringo then sublet the flat to friends, including The Animals' bass guitarist Chas Chandler, Jimi Hendrix and Lillian Powell, Cynthia Lennon's mother and John's mother-in-law. Cynthia stayed there with her mother when she discovered that John was having an affair with Yoko. Cynthia moved back to Kenwood when John and Yoko moved in to the flat in July 1968. It was here that the photo for what was to become the Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins album, or Two Virgins for short, album was taken. John and Yoko have always claimed the photo was taken by John on a timer, however photographs apparently showing John and Yoko naked as well as a photographer dating from this session have been located. Christopher Eccleston and Naoko Mori re-enact a surprisingly accurate recreation of the naked album cover, which caused much controversy on its release.
When interviewed about this scene, actor Christopher Eccleston said,
'It was a little strange because that was an iconic moment in rock history so we had to make absolutely sure we got it all right. The nudity wasn't the issue at all.'
As shown, Pete Shotton did resign as John's personal assistant when asked to clean up the flat. 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, as both Lennon Naked and John & Yoko: A Love Story shows, 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 list of arrests include Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and George Harrison on the day of Paul McCartney's wedding. John Lennon and George Harrison 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".'
As Lennon Naked shows, Yoko was pregnant at the time, and did go to Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital. There she had a miscarriage on 21 November, 1968. John recorded the baby's heartbeat when she heard that the baby was unlikely to survive, which can be heard on the Unfinished Music No. 2 – Life With The Lions album. The baby, old enough to require an official death certificate, was named 'John Ono Lennon II' and given a proper burial in an unknown location. Lennon Naked carefully recreates Yoko's room in the hospital from the Life With The Lions album cover. That John, due to a bed shortage, was unable to have his own bed to sleep on, is also true to life.
Alfred 'Freddie' Lennon
Alfred 'Freddie' Lennon did indeed meet John in the circumstances shown in Lennon Naked.
Alfred Lennon had an almost outrageously unbelievable life. He was born in 1912, the fourth son of five sons and one daughter of John 'Jack' and Mary 'Polly' Lennon. He suffered badly from rickets as a child, which prevented his legs from ever fully growing, resulting in him being short. When his father died in 1919, his mother couldn't afford to keep all the children and so gave Alfred and his sister Edith to the Bluecoat Orphanage. When he was 14 he ran away from the orphanage to join a musical show, travelling to Glasgow with them before being forced to return to the orphanage.
He met Julia Stanley at the age of 15 in 1927 and continued a relationship for several years, despite the objections of Julia's parents. Alfred worked for Cunard on passenger liners and finally married Julia in December 1938, at the Mount Pleasant Registry Office, where John would later marry Cynthia in 1962. During the war, he was in the merchant navy and frequently away from home for long periods of time. Although he was away from Liverpool when his son was born, he claims he chose the name John after his father (although Mimi would always insist that she chose the name John.)
When Freddie returned to Liverpool after one absence during the war he discovered that Julia had become an alcoholic in his absence, addicted to pub life and men. After another 18 month trip away he returned after the war to find that the house they had shared now had lodgers in, his wife Julia had not only moved house without informing him, but she was also pregnant.
First she insisted she had been raped, but when Freddie managed to find the father, 'Taffy' Williams who had asked to marry Julia, Julia confessed she had been having an affair. During the fracas Julia's father discovered that Julia was pregnant, later forcing her to give up the child. Freddie had wished to raise the child as if it was his, but when he was away on his next voyage Julia had her daughter, named Victoria Elizabeth, adopted. When Freddie next returned he discovered that Julia had moved in with another man, John 'Bobby' Dykins, and had taken John Lennon with her. The exact events after that are unclear, as apparently John ran away to his Aunt Mimi's house, who had been in contact with social services about John staying with Julia and Bobby Dykins as they all shared the same bed. Freddie took John to possibly stay with John's uncle Sydney Lennon, although Mimi Smith claims that he stayed only with her, before Freddie took John on a trip to Blackpool and asking him if he wanted to emigrate with him to New Zealand.
As the film Nowhere Boy portrays, Julia, with Mimi, tracked Freddie down in Blackpool. Julia refused Freddie's request for her to leave Bobby and return to a normal, married life, and as a result they asked John who he wanted to live with. Initially saying his father, he later ran off with his mother, only to be brought up by his aunt Mimi.
Freddie then set sail without John, and in 1948 was almost accidentally executed for murder in Argentina. His identity card, reading 'Next Of Kin: John Lennon – signed A Lennon', was confused by local authorities with John Alennon, a notorious murderer. In 1949 when drunk he broke a shop window and paraded a shop mannequin, a crime that resulted in his spending 6 months in prison. This terrible act against society meant he was unable to get any more jobs onboard ships, and he spent several years drifting from lowly job to lowly job, trying to earn enough to stay alive. He did not hear of Julia's death until after the funeral and stayed out of John Lennon's life until he started reading newspaper articles that stated how he had abandoned John as a child. Feeling hurt that the truth of his life was being distorted, he contacted a newspaper to request a chance to meet up with his son John again. It is at this point in Freddie Lennon's life that the film, Lennon Naked, begins.
After meeting John, Freddie then sold his life story to Tit Bits magazine and was talked into making a record, entitled 'That's My Life (My Love And My Home)', an autobiographical tale of his life. It entered the charts at number 37. Then, without explanation, all copies of it were removed from sale, its airplay was banned, the secretary who initially contacted Freddie Lennon to say that Brian Epstein had blocked and withdrawn the record, when they tried to contact her secretary again, had been promoted and sent to Los Angeles. When he went to see John to see if he was able to explain, John refused to see him, although he had bought a copy. Julian reportedly frequently asked his mother to 'play granddad's song'. It was around this time that he began his relationship with 18 year old Pauline Jones.
John learnt of his relationship with Pauline when his father stayed at Kenwood, and after he and Cynthia met her, Cynthia employed her as a live-in mother's help and secretary. Pauline's mother, however, did not approve of the relationship and when Pauline moved into Freddie's flat and became pregnant, applied to make Pauline a ward of court. The press attention that this created resulted in Pauline suffering a miscarriage, a premonition of the fate that John and Yoko would later experience. John agreed to pay for them to move to a one-bed flat in Brighton, in June 1968 Pauline became pregnant again, and John paid for them to elope to Gretna Green1 and also bought them a house in Brighton. However, once their son, David Henry Lennon, was born in February 1969, John broke off all contact with his father. He only met his half-brother once and never met Freddie and Pauline's second son, Robin Lennon, who was born in October 1973.
The last meeting between John and his father happened quite differently to how Lennon Naked shows. John was undergoing Primal Scream Therapy as Lennon Naked demonstrates, based on the theory that neuroses are caused by the lack of parental love between the ages of 5 and 72. Dr Arthur Janov, who had developed the theory and was undergoing sessions with both John and Yoko, advocated that the way for John to cure his neuroses was to exorcise the ghosts caused by his lack of parental love by symbolically screaming at his parents. It was while he was undergoing this therapy that John last saw his father, who, with Pauline and one year old son David, accepted John's invitation to visit. Slightly misinterpreting Primal Scream Theory's advocating of symbolic screaming at his parents, John exorcised his ghosts by not only screaming at his father but also threatening to murder him3. This, with Yoko's encouragement, was done in front of his baby half-brother, who was very upset and kept crying. John then informed his father that the house in Brighton was still owned by him, and that Freddie and Pauline had to leave it immediately. Pauline, Freddie and baby David were then forced to move house, receiving a letter from John's lawyer soon after.
After this incident the only contact John had with his father was after Freddie developed terminal stomach cancer. John had a long telephone conversation with his dad, after which time he buried the hatchet and sent him a large bunch of flowers, but Freddie died soon after.
John described his relationship with his father with the words
'I never knew my father. I saw him twice in my life till I was twenty-two, when he turned up after I'd had a few hit records. I saw him and spoke to him and decided I still didn't want to know him.
He turned up after I was famous, which I wasn't very pleased about. He knew where I was all my life – I'd lived in the same house in the same place for most of my childhood, and he knew where. I though it was a bit suspicious, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt after he'd put a lot of pressure on me in the press. I opened up the paper – the front-page news is "John's Dad is washing dishes, why isn't John looking after him?" I said, "Because he never looked after me." So I looked after him for the same period he'd looked after me, about four years.
I started supporting him, then I went to therapy and re-remembered how furious I was in the depths of my soul about being left as a child..... So I came out of the therapy and told him to get the hell out, and I wish I hadn't.... He died a few years later of cancer.'