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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Kristin Scott Thomas
Aaron Johnson
Anne-Marie Duff.
Directors
Sam Taylor Wood.
Screenwriters
Running Time
98 minutes

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Nowhere Boy
The Beatles: Episode I: The Phantom Muso


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Plot
Liverpool, 1955. When teenage rebel John Lennon (Johnson) learns that his aunt Julia (Duff) is actually his biological mother, he finds his loyalties divided. He finds an escape from domestic pressures in his growing passion for skiffle music.


Review
Nowhere Boy
Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy, a biopic of John Lennon, starts with Lennon running past the columns of the Liverpool Concert Hall as the jangling chord — put simplistically, it’s F with a G on top — that opens A Hard Day’s Night rings out. It’s a witty, arresting opening, redolent of nascent genius, and the one and only time we hear The Beatles in the entire film. For Taylor-Wood’s well-acted, well-mounted portrait concentrates on the young man’s formation, not the established mythos. It may not be 100 per cent absorbing — early scenes lack incident — but is always entertaining, keeping a clear-eyed view of a musical great.

More Douglas Sirk than Walk The Line or Ray, Nowhere Boy is a tug-of-love melodrama, with Lennon bouncing between restrictive guardian Aunt Mimi and liberated biological mother Julia. Kristin Scott Thomas, chain-smoking for England, can do this kind of icy matriarch in her sleep, but suggests depths of affection for John beneath the glacial veneer. Much more interesting is Lennon’s relationship with Julia, the woman who introduced him to rock ’n’ roll and the idea of musical creativity by teaching him banjo and giving him a harmonica. Anne-Marie Duff gives Julia an engaging unconventionality and vivacity, even suggesting an undercurrent of sexual attraction to her estranged son (“Rock ’n’ roll actually means sex,” she tells him as they dance together). The reason why Lennon is living with his aunt is hinted at throughout the film, a mystery that gives the film its dramatic kick. When it comes, Nowhere Boy truly ignites for the first time.

Taylor-Wood sketches Lennon’s teen rebellion — he bunks off school, rides atop double-decker buses, fingers girls in the park, shapes an Elvis-style quiff — and his gradual gravitation towards music. Matt Greenhaigh’s script (he also wrote Joy Division flick Control) contains portents of things to come — John strolls past Strawberry Fields children’s home, doodles a walrus in an exercise book and is turned away from The Cavern Club— but thankfully the nods and winks are kept to a minimum. The first meetings with both a baby-faced Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) and George Harrison (Sam Bell) are handled without pomp, McCartney simply asking for tea, Harrison casually introduced on a bus.

Working with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, Taylor-Wood gives ’50s Liverpool a vibrant feel that is aeons away from the clichéd grit and grime of archive Merseyside footage. But, considering Taylor-Wood’s position within the Young British Artists clique of the mid-’90s, Nowhere Boy plays it surprisingly safe, cinematically. The filmmaking is always assured, but perhaps Lennon’s originality should have been reflected by a more raw, rebellious approach.

This spirit, though, is happily alive and well in Aaron Johnson. His Lennon is by turns feral, vulnerable, quick-witted and callow, never able to grasp the depths of love both women hold for him. Next year’s Kick-Ass may make Johnson a star, but Nowhere Boy feels like we are glimpsing a major talent in waiting. Which is pretty apt, really.


Verdict
Anchored by a strong central turn, Nowhere Boy crafts entertaining, small-scale drama out of Lennon’s huge-sized legend. It just lacks the spark and ambition of its subject.


Reviewed by Ian Freer


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Nowhere Boy
Empire Star Rating

Materpiece

A captivating tale based on John Lennon's life as a troubled teenager and what a Spectacular performance by Aaron Johnson who played Lennon in his stride. The film has everything romance, music, violence and dare i say it emotion. I enjoyed every minute of it and i hope you do too. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by deppfanatic at 14:14, 30 May 2010 | Report This Post


A missed opportunity.

Enjoyed this film- although it did feel insubstantial- if it focused more on the beginning of the Beatles than the stuff about John's mother and step-mother (which all felt too modern), it would have been better. I also thought the casting was wrong with Aaron Johnson as John, as he just didn't look the part for one thing, and his performance was one dimensional and too 'burley', not conveying John's emotional side that well. And the other Beatles similarly had no familiarity with their counterp... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by stevos at 12:59, 01 January 2010 | Report This Post


I'm a huge beatles fan, so anything around that topic I am eager to watch. And to be honest i thought it was excellent, with aaron johnson living up to the legend in his performance. Definitely one to watch again. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by A.E.C. at 18:05, 31 December 2009 | Report This Post


An interesting study of Lennon's early family life. I thought this was a well-rounded film which didn't need to use arty shots to convey the feeling of the era. The actors had gentle Merseyside accents and look to have been selected for their ability to give good character representation rather than just looking like the musicians they're meant to be. I felt this conveyed a greater sense of realism than if they'd been strutting around wriggling their eyebrows, pouting and shouting "ar ay... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ChrissieK at 16:56, 28 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE:no way boy

You haven't actually seen it, have you? Go on, be honest. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by badsanta at 12:54, 24 December 2009 | Report This Post


no way boy

if this is supposed to be a biography of John Lennon and Paul MCcartney its a poor showing on the film industry. i know two polish lads who sound more like them than the actors who tried to play them. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by scouser2009 at 22:09, 23 December 2009 | Report This Post


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