2009 Running time: 97 Certificate: 15 Rating: 4

Synopsis

The early life and times of John Lennon provide artist Sam Taylor-Wood with rich dramatic material for her feature-directing debut. Aaron Johnson plays the rebellious, teenage Lennon, raised by his prim and proper aunt (Kristen Scott-Thomas) but drawn towards music only after reuniting with the mother who abandoned him as a child (Anne-Marie Duff). Blessed with superb performances and a fine eye for detail, this serves as both a convincing portrait of a budding icon and an evocative recreation of post-war Britain.

Director

  • Sam Taylor Wood

Cast

  • Aaron Johnson

  • Anne-Marie Duff

  • Kristin Scott Thomas

  • David Morrissey

  • Thomas Sangster

Review

With a fine British cast and stout British crew telling the great British tale of a working-class lad made good, Nowhere Boy has 'BAFTA Nominee' running through it like a stick of rock.

The story of a teenage tearaway who finds his true calling after a confusing upbringing is not uncommon. The hook here is that the youth in question is John Lennon.

But anyone expecting a dose of Beatlemania may be surprised to find nary a "yeah-yeah-yeah" in art world doyenne Sam Taylor-Wood's refreshingly objective first feature.

We meet Lennon as a 15-year-old looker, ducker and all-round scallywag, living with his austere Aunt Mimi (Scott Thomas) and beloved Uncle George. But when George suddenly dies, John is compelled to look for his mother Julia (Duff), a flighty soul who walked out when he was five.

Turns out she's been just round the corner all the time, seemingly settled with dependable Bobby Dykins (David Morrissey) and their two daughters. Putting aside the past, prodigal mother and son form a close bond... perhaps a little too close.

But, sharing John's passion for rock'n'roll, it's Julia who introduces him to his first instrument: the banjo. Issues of abandonment, reconciliation and tragic loss notwithstanding, the rest is history.

After forming his first band - school skiffle outfit The Quarrymen - John is introduced to a superior musical talent, name of McCartney (Thomas Sangster, looking no older than he did in Love Actually). Petty jealousies surface early.

Yet there's no doubt that John's dedication and sheer stubbornness will take him a long way.

Championed by the late Anthony Minghella, Taylor-Wood deserves high praise for creating a stylish and accessible biopic without cramming it with arty affectations or putting her subject on a pedestal.

As the chalk-and-cheese sisters, Duff and Scott-Thomas are predictably superb. Not to be outdone, Johnson - mere teenage meat in Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging - presents a wholly believable portrait of the artist as an angry young man.

This is no act of hero worship. An unpredictable mix of youthful swagger and moody introspection, Lennon generally dealt with his insecurities by lashing out at others. Give peace a chance? Maybe later.

With a sparky script from Matt Greenhalgh (Control) and terrific work from her production crew, Taylor-Wood neatly captures the war-is-over feel of 1950s Liverpool from greasy quiffed youths to smoke-filled greasy spoons.

It's a confident debut to be appreciated by cineastes, laymen and Lennonites alike.

Hats off to the forty-something director, too, for getting engaged to her teenage leading man. As the man said - all you need is love.