Directed by: Sam Taylor-Wood
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Sam Bell
Release Date: October 10, 2010
There is the old argument between music fans – are you a Beatle or a Rolling Stone? Whether you like your rock n’ roll heavier or with a bit of a pop you simply can not discount the influence of The Beatles on modern music. Nowhere Boy is the story of one of the band’s chief song-writers, John Lennon. In his relatively short life he clocked up more number one singles and platinum selling albums than any other non-Beatle Englishman. He was, rightly, a legend in his own lifetime. What a story to tell.
Specifically, Nowhere Boy concentrates on a teenage Lennon (Aaron Johnson) growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s. His mother introduced him to rock and roll music and Elvis. With her help he learned to play the banjo and then guitar, all with the purpose of starting his own band. Shortly after forming The Quarrymen he was introduced to two other teenagers who would help him change the world: Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and George Harrison (Sam Bell). Music would never be the same.
It seems such a shame, then, that director Sam Taylor-Wood and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh treat this as secondary to John’s turbulent personal life. Abandoned by his mother at a very young age he was “˜stolen’ by his aunt Mimi and raised by her strict morals. Torn between the life he thinks he should have had with his birth mother and the life he has with his surrogate mother, Lennon struggles with his fiery emotions.
Nowhere Boy is a lot darker than I imagined it would be. Obviously to tell either story – his music, his upbringing – would be impossible without the other: his life shaped his music and vice versa. Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) brings out the darker side of John Lennon very well. He is bulkier than Lennon ever seemed to be and at times can be overly aggressive and intimidating, but he also pitches Lennon’s drive and kindness brilliantly.
Kristin Scott Thomas (Tell No One) is exceptional as John’s aunt Mimi. She does absolute justice to the woman who was such a huge influence in Lennon’s life. At first she seems cold and harsh, a woman who only listens to classical music, who likes everything neat and a certain way, tolerating no “˜fuss’. But as the film plays on she became quietly comforting; a constant positive guide for young Lennon. A stark contrast to her sister, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), Lennon’s real mother who is fun but flaky, offering John a place to live and a life of fun but it seems to be for her own benefit and to ease her own guilt.
Paul (or Thomas Brodie Sangster, the actor playing him) may look five years younger but he is an old head on young shoulders; a real steadying influence on the, at times, unruly and untamed talent of John Lennon.
This is a fascinating account of a very specific part of young John Lennon’s life. I would have liked to have seen more in regards to music but I still found it engrossing despite mostly flippant references to his relationship with Paul McCartney and the formation of The Beatles (the end of the film sees Lennon departing for Hamburg). But I think fans of John Lennon will be happy with the result.