I was watching the "Lennon Naked" TV biopic this weekend, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it. This is a BBC production and it's a TV drama with actors portraying real persons in a part fiction part documentary script, written by Robert Jones. The plot is like this: In 1964, a reluctant John Lennon (Christopher Eccleston) is persuaded by manager Brian Epstein (Rory Kinnear, who bears a striking resemblance to his late father Roy, Algernon in "Help!") to meet Freddie Lennon (Christher Fairbank), the father who abandoned him 17 years earlier, with the press in attendance. The meeting is brief and bitter. Three years later Epstein is dead and John invites Freddie to his mansion but again things turn sour, due to Freddie's drinking and insulting aunt Mimi. The Beatles set up Apple Records, but the press are hostile and Lennon's comment that 'We're more popular than Jesus' doesn't help. Rows with long-suffering wife, Cynthia (Claudie Blakley) lead to marital breakdown and John's meeting with Japanese visual artist Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori). Family history is repeated as Lennon leaves Cynthia and their son, Julian (Charlie Coulthard) for Ono. In 1969 John returns his M.B.E. in protest at England's support for the Vietnam War while his stunts with Yoko Ono to promote peace alienate the press. Some months later he disbands The Beatles to the other members' annoyance and, after arguments with fellow songwriter, bandmate and friend, Paul McCartney, sees a therapist, who regresses him to the day Freddie left him. He learns that Freddie needs his help to write a biography, leading to one last showdown between himself and his father. Lennon plays the song "Mother" from his recent Plastic Ono Band album to convey his feelings to his dad, and awkwardness ensues. The biopic ends with the Lennon's (John and Yoko) leaving England to move to New York.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this 1 hour 30 minutes movie. Eccleston is a good actor, but I get a feeling that he is 'putting on' a Lennon voice, it doesn't sound at all like natural Liverpudlian to me, it sounds forced. But then again, all portrayals of the Beatles in biopics sound like that to me! The music is excellent, as it is the real one, genuine Beatles and Lennon songs from their records and not some cover band or something made to sound like the Beatles. Seeing Lennon, Ono and Shotton (Adrian Bower) inside a mock "Kenwood" is a treat. Documentary clips from newsreels featuring the real Beatles and Lennon are also intercut in the movie, which was a nice touch. We get to see John and Yoko taking the photos for the "Two Virgins" album cover, justifying the film's title, although the actor's bodies are in far better shape than the real life John and Yoko. The real life Lennon changed his appearance, hair length, facial hair and style of clothing a lot more often than what the movie Lennon does, but Eccleston at least has a Lennon nose... The other Beatles are also making appearances in the film, an almost non-existant Ringo Starr (Craig Cheetham), a mostly mute George Harrison (Jack Morgan) and a Paul McCartney (Andrew Scott) that almost comes across as dim witted. I believe that McCartney was as intelligent as Lennon, so I feel that this film in no way is able to capture the real interplay between these two genius songwriters. Of course, it is very difficult to portray a real conversation between the two, as it would have come across mostly as code, riddled as their conversations always probably were with half remembered Goon show references, movie lines and references to other shared experiences, unknown to the outside world. Derek Taylor (Michael Colgan) looks the part, but like McCartney he is a flawed shadow of his real life soft spoken but powerful counterpart. Still, this film has a lot of good things going for it, and the main story is about how Lennon, in spite of his own traumatic childhood experiences duplicates his father's abandonment by leaving Julian behind. A key scene which is often returned to in the movie is the Blackpool scene, also a key element in "Nowhere Boy", when young John has to choose between going to New Zealand with Freddie or staying in Liverpool with Julia (only to be abandoned by her, having to be raised by aunt Mimi). The script is a dark one, and John Lennon's real life sense of humour is nowhere to be found. This makes it troublesome for us to identify with the Lennon character and to understand his popularity. I forget, but I don't think Eccleston ever smiles in this movie, at least that's the feeling I'm left with after having watched it only once. As all followers of The Beatles and John Lennon know, there was always a smile and a laugh following every serious moment with Lennon - to take the edge off. Here, he becomes a little too one-dimensional to be believable. This is probably something the actor could have added to the written script, but it's also the director's and the writer's responsibility.
Another thing, which is also the flaw in "Nowhere Boy", is that according to Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird's investigations and as layed out in her book, the one person responsible for John being brought up by aunt Mimi instead of his mother Julia was aunt Mimi herself. Mimi was living in an unconsumated marriage, but wanted a child, she wanted John for herself. She used the fact that Julia was living in an unmarried relationship with John Dykins to take the young John Lennon away from his mother and have him placed with herself. Aunt Mimi alerted the local authorities, whose moral standards at the time were such that they couldn't allow the innocent boy to live in such an 'immoral' household, so they helped aunt Mimi get parental control over the boy. Lennon's relationship with his mother was severed, and he wasn't reunited with his mother until he reached his teens, when his cousin took him to Julia's house and showed him that she was alive and living not too far from him. This key element in Julia Baird's book was removed from the "Nowhere Boy" film at the request of Paul McCartney(!), which lead Julia Baird to distance herself from the finished product. It's a shame that this story can only be read in an obscure book (and this blog), while the censored film version is the one that will be watched, and believed, by millions around the world.
Anyway, "Lennon Naked" comes across as a sequel to "Nowhere Boy", but also stands on it's own.
Here's a clip from late in the film (strong language warning, rated suitable for 15 year olds or older):
The film is due out on DVD in the USA on November 23 and has been out in the UK since June 28th. It was first broadcast on 24 June 2010 on BBC Four.