Nowhere Boy review, bringing John Lennon home to Liverpool

Posted on 26 December 2009
By Andy Johnson
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Opening with the spine-tingling chord from Hard Day’s Night – we see our teenage hero John Lennon playing truant, running through the streets of Liverpool and Nowhere Boy’s breakneck pace and emotional intensity never relents.

You half-expect him to be chased by screaming girls, but the distinctive chord is one of few allusions to The Beatles (the group’s name is never referred to) apart from the later appearence of young Paul and George into John’s life.

Newcomer Aaron Johnson, 19, perfectly captures the raw intensity of Lennon, with his acerbic wit and tendency to lash out at loved ones, as he struggled to come to terms with his brilliantly complicated adolescent mind, abandonment issues and the lure of Rock n’ Roll.

Johnson is tipped for big things after this portrayal of the Woolton-born rock icon, even singing and playing guitar in the exceptional music scenes.

Watch Click Liverpool’s exclusive video interview with Aaron Johnson here, where he tells us how he got under Lennon’s skin for thr role, the music and other insights behind his performance.

Wearing his Quarrybank school uniform, the story centres around the teenage tearaway as he tries to find an outlet for his burgeoning genius, taking on knife-wielding teddy boys, surfing the bus into the city centre and being expelled from school for flashing a porn mag at old ladies.

Nowhere Boy takes the genesis story further back than the successful 1994 film Backbeat, which captured John’s friendship with Stuart Sutcliffe (whose presence was cut from the final Nowhere Boy script) as The Beatles began to realise the power of their music.

The plot hangs on the tug of love for John’s affections between his protective Aunt Mimi and his exciting mother Julia, who he discovers lives around the corner and shares his love of music.

Taking John in hand, Julia teaches him the early banjo chords he used before meeting Paul McCartney and reveals that ‘Rock n’ Roll means sex.’

There are several uncomfortable scenes in which John forms an unbreakable bond and borderline Oedipal relationship with his mother in secret, away from his strict Aunt Mimi’s gaze.

Critics have called the creative forces behind the film irresponsisble for over-playing the sisters at war and how it impacted on John’s life.

Director Sam Taylor-Wood paints a perfect picture of post-war Liverpool. But evoking an easily accessed nostalgia for The Beatles’ story, sees her run the risk of altering public perception of these events.

The Beatles themselves have gone on record to disprove of such dramatic devices. Paul McCartney has often voiced his disaproval of how people record ‘dramatic facts’ about them, which will eventually enter the history books and popular folklore.

In the movie’s most emotionally charged scene, after Julia’s funeral, an angry and frustrated John headbutts close childhood friend Pete Shotton and punches Paul McCartney to the ground. They then embrace over the tragedy of both losing their mothers at an early age.

Although this never happened, in an interview with Click Liverpool the director dismisses it as a perfect narrative device to convey the journey and relationship the two songwriters are destined to take.

Writer Matt Greenhalgh, who also wrote the Ian Curtis biopic Control, is keen to express that it is a biopic, but that dramatic flourishes have been used to succinctly tell the tale of John Lennon’s struggle to escape.

Paul McCartney is played brilliantly by Thomas Brodie Sangster (who learned to play the guitar left-handed for the film) although at times he looks comically young and angelic next to Johnson’s towering frame and muscle.

There are some great asides between the pair, such as when John tells Paul: ‘Well its my f**king band’, which allow knowing audiences a snigger in anticipation of the power struggle set unfold in the coming years.

The scouse accents are impeccable and hark back to the old school, plum and well rounded tones that conquered the world along with the Fab Four’s charming wit in the 1960’s, before being replaced with the whiney, ‘post-Brookie’ slurred speech you are more likely to hear on the city streets today.

Greenhalgh, who hails from Salford, is well at home in Liverpool (having spent seven years as a runner on Brookside) and captures the Scouse witticisms to a tee.

There are some excellent one liners from the extras such as when Aunt Mimi asks for Earl Grey tea at a back street cafe: ‘You must have been mistaken us for Buckingham Palace love.’

Liverpool audiences will also delight in being able to spot the film’s locations. Also leaving you to wonder that after Yoko bought Mendips for the National Trust, why they didn’t shoot his home sequences there?

Nowhere Boy will delight Beatles fans everywhere, but will it stand the test of time.