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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Film – Nowhere Boy – directed by Sam Taylor-Wood

Star rating 8/10

This debut feature film by artist Sam Taylor-Wood is the story of John Lennon’s early years, and more especially the two women who were the dominant forces in his life - one by her presence, and the other by her absence. The acting is superb, especially by the leads Kristin Scott Thomas (Aunt Mimi); Aaron Johnson (Lennon); and Ann-Marie Duff (his mother Julia).

The film beautifully evokes the 1950s feeling, where the advent of rock and roll after the austere war years is a cataclysmic event. Lennon lived with his aunt from the age of 5 after his mother abandoned him. Scott Thomas is excellent as the respectable Mimi, who listens to classical music on the radio whilst reading novels. ‘We don’t turn Tchaikovsky over here John’, she says when he wants to try out the new radio speakers his uncle has rigged up in his bedroom. She is very stiff upper lip, and tries to encourage John to be the same, as the moving scene after the death of her husband, his uncle, shows. He wants to hug her in grief but she cannot show such emotion so easily.

Such a contrast to his younger, exciting mother Julia, who he finds out has been living only a few streets away all the time with a new family. Mimi is worried that Julia will hurt John again, which she inevitably does, but they have a lot of fun along the way. She is a free, if fragile, spirit and loves the rock and roll music that John is discovering. She gleefully tells him that rock and roll stands for sex, and indeed their burgeoning relationship seems uncomfortably flirtatious for her son at times. The laughter turns to tears when she is knocked over by a car and killed. But not before John has taken his pent up anger out on her for leaving him as a child.

The music is fabulous, but is almost a backdrop to the story of John, Julia and Mimi. The band are shown in their infancy as they discover how to play their instruments and get to the famous line up that would go on to conquer the world. Lennon’s passion, arrogance and spirit are clear to see. And the 19 year old Aaron Johnson gives a convincing performance, even if his scouse accent is not as strong as it might be.

A great first feature for Taylor-Wood, told with a straight bat. It is a moving portrayal of these formative relationships in Lennon’s life. It is the story of love, loss and abandonment; as well as devotion and passion. But it is also a powerful period piece – well worth catching.

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