I don’t know very much about the life of John Lennon; it’s KC who’s the big Beatles fan. I was interested in seeing this more because Christopher Eccleston (the first modern Doctor Who) plays the lead, and when I first saw the DVD cover, I didn’t recognize him, he’d done such a good job of projecting the artist. Lennon Naked is a BBC production that recently aired on PBS, where you can watch it online until December 21.
The film is about 80 minutes and opens with a disclaimer: “The following drama is based on real events, although some scenes are the invention of the writer.” It covers Lennon’s life primarily from 1967-1971, the period during which he meets Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori) and the Beatles break up, with the opening set in 1964 with Brian Epstein (Rory Kinnear). The focus is on Lennon’s family relationships: with his estranged father (Christopher Fairbank), who left when John was two; the dissolution of his marriage to Cynthia (Claudie Blakley); and the breakup of his performing family due to his embracing his artistic side as represented by Yoko.
The period recreations are a pleasure to watch, even if Eccleston is too old for the part, especially in the early footage. His performance is excellent, though, helped by outstanding voice, hair, and makeup. This is a film about how a pop star became a tortured genius, with lots of psychological underpinnings and explanations suggested. It’s episodic, not so much a movie as a visual greatest hits, with half of them fanciful or unlikely in fact. We found it difficult to follow as a story, especially KC, who knew what the events were supposed to be and what order they should be happening in, which sometimes contradicted what we saw on screen. Some key events aren’t followed up on; we’re shown, for example, the police breaking in for a drug bust but never told what happened afterwards. (Lennon paid a fine to make it go away, although that conviction later trapped him in America.)
It’s ultimately another story about how painful it is to be a creative performer. I have limited sympathy for the trials of the self-indulgent rich and famous at this point, especially those who are cruel or uncaring to those around them with the excuse of childhood pain. If we are to believe that Lennon was warped for life by his father’s departure, as this film would have it, then how unforgivable is it that he does that same thing to his own child? But I also need to remember that this is likely more fiction than fact. It feels like a very expensive fan video, recreating famous moments and filling in imaginary conversations with the martyred artist.
In short, I enjoyed the spectacle, but I found the emphasis on a suffering artist implausible and the man himself remote. There are no extras, just a choice to turn subtitles on or off, but there is nudity as they recreate the Two Virgins album cover. (The studio provided a review copy.)