Discovering the Nowhere Boy
We all know John Lennon the Beatle, alongside Paul, George and Ringo, for writing the likes of _Strawberry Fields Forever_ and _I am the Walrus_. We all know John Lennon, the Vietnam War activist, imagining a ‘brotherhood of man’, and his campaign for peace. We all know John and Yoko and their week-long Bed-In.
But how many of us know about Lennon’s traumatic youth; where the inspiration for his later tribute on _John Lennon/ Plastic Ono band_, ‘Mother’ came from, and what happened in his past to form the man that would become the ‘serious’ Beatle, and eventually achieve international fame beyond the calibre of a pop star? Whilst a member of The Beatles, Lennon was known for his outspoken, comical attitude- causing controversy when claiming his band was ‘bigger than Jesus’, and consequently having many records banned and burned in the US. After the breakup of the Beatles in 1970, Lennon continued to be known for his social activism, and ‘larger than life’ ‘messianic’ approach to his anti-war campaigning during the Vietnam War; which almost got him deported from the States during the Nixon administration. Existing simultaneously as a controversial and inspirational figure- one to whom many listened, and many tried to silence, John Lennon remains a landmark in the history of both music and politics.
_Nowhere Boy_ is the story of the early years that would form John Lennon. Being brought up in stifling suburban Liverpool with his less than sympathetic Aunt Mimi, and adoring Uncle George; with just casual acquaintance with his mother, and none whatsoever with his father, the film explores John’s early relationships, and the tragic events that would go on to shape him.
John Lennon was born to John and Julia Lennon in Liverpool, 1940; his father, a member of the merchant navy, was often absent, and during one such period his mother became pregnant by another man, leading to the breakup of the family; and subsequently for him to be brought up by his Aunt and Uncle from the age of five, and never to see his father again until making it big with The Beatles. Through vivid cinematography and a bold style celebrating the era of 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, _Nowhere Boy_ vibrantly illuminates young Lennon’s world. The stark contrast between the conservative home of Aunt Mimi, and that of his mother’s house; one brought alive by music becomes the setting for Sam Taylor-Woods’ first feature length film.
After the devastating death of his Uncle George, John is introduced to the sexy world of Elvis and Rock ‘n’ Roll by his mother, and with it we witness the evolution and sexualisation of his character from grammar school boy to rebellious Teddy Boy. In this world John learns to play guitar, and eventually meets Paul and George, later to become key figures in his life. The film depicts John’s life up until the tragic death of his mother in a road accident, and soon after when the will-be Beatles leave for Hamburg on their first ever international tour.
With screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, who also wrote _Control_; _Nowhere Boy_ maintains some of the grit of a good British drama, delving deep into relationships, and unlike _In His Life: The John Lennon Story _(2000), does not just skim over a vast range of events in Lennon’s life. _Nowhere Boy_ focuses on a specified time and place, and moves far more slowly and sentimentally than the earlier biopic. Rather than merely treating him as an inconceivably famous icon, _Nowhere Boy_ humanises John Lennon, and provides an insight into why he would later go through ‘primal scream’ therapy, and use his past to make his music. Although Aaron Johnson does not provide the most convincing Lennon, the characters do form organic, moving relationships; and the film explores them in such a way that blame is placed on no one, but understanding felt for all, which creates a poignancy and understanding of the impossible decisions adults in Lennon’s life were forced to make. Kristin Scott Thomas (Aunt Mimi) and Anne Marie Duff (Julie) portray the two women who would shape John Lennon’s early life, and with the period scenery, music and setting really absorb the audience.
The film includes songs from John’s original band ‘The Quarrymen’, named after his secondary school, and his first song written at the age of 18, ‘Hello Little Girl’. _Nowhere Boy_ is important for understanding such a superstar as a person, and not once is the name ‘The Beatles’ mentioned throughout the film; it focuses totally on the human aspects and relationships of a man the public thought they knew so well.
**Out now on DVD.**