Backbeat Review

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John, Paul, George, Pete and Stuart searching for fame take their band, the Beatles, to Berlin at the beginning of th 60s. There meet with artists, girls and success. But when Stuart falls in love with Astrid, he must choose between the girl and the guys.


The rough and rowdy pre-"loveable moptops" days of The Beatles as late adolescents in Liverpool and Hamburg, grinding out all-night sets in a strip joint while popping pills, pulling birds and dreaming of fame, provide a colourful backdrop for the story of "Fifth Beatle" Stuart Sutcliffe, who died of a brain haemorrhage in 1962.

The heart of Backbeat is artist Stu's feverish creative urge, his importance to best mate John Lennon, and his intense love affair with their avant garde style-setting influence Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who took striking photos of the Fab Four when they were the Fab Five (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Pete Best and Stu) and snipped their Teddy Boy quiffs into the famous pudding basin 'dos.

The period re-creation of 1960-62 is absolutely fab, and the love story is touching, with strong performances from American Stephen Dorff — cutting a suitably driven, moody, James Dean-like Stu with a decent Liverpool accent — and Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, sympathetic as Stu's existentialist dream girl.

The film's greatest strength, and arguably also its weakness, is the charismatic, near-perfect performance from Ian Hart as a sardonic, volatile, angry young Lennon. His envious/admiring role in the Stu-Astrid story is as compelling as their own, and it is to him that your eyes go in his every scene. The rest of the band (Gary Bakewell as Paul, Chris O'Neill as George and Scot Williams as the face that didn't fit, Pete Best) are a lively, puppyish, acceptable approximation of the personalities enshrined in legend, and there's a good tune every ten minutes with a gritty, grunged-up Beatles soundtrack produced by Don Was

Iain Softley directs his feature debut with simplicity and feeling, and you don't have to have been a Beatles fan to get with the beat. Gives you hope for the British film industry.