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STUDIO: BBC Warner
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
The life of John Lennon is explored further, this time centering on the 1967-1971 years.
Christopher Eccleston, Andrew Scott, Christopher Fairbank and Naoko Mori.
At the height of Beatlemania, Lennon’s long-lost father shows up hoping to reestablish a relationship with his famous son. It coincides with a dramatic shift in his life, including the death of The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, the formation of Apple and his meeting with Yoko Ono, a relationship which would go on to define the rest of his life.
Christopher Eccleston as John Lennon was a strange concept to come to grips with at first, but once you see him in the role you come to understand why he was chosen: he’s an inspired choice. Eccleston seems to have had an easy time with the role, as he delivers all of the characteristic hallmarks generally associated with Lennon, from his accent down to the mannerisms. The film moves along nicely on his shoulders and he carries it with ease, and while he’s a very capable actor he’s never one you’d ever really consider as being able to carry a picture. But here he accomplishes that feat as well as the interpretation of an incredibly famous character, and it’s his performance, more than anything else, that makes this BBC biopic worth watching.
The movie mainly covers 1967-1971, which encompasses some tough and trying events in his life. In the beginning Brian Epstein ushers him in to a hotel room where he first makes contact with his father after almost two decades, and it’s here where Eccleston’s Lennon begins life. His handling of the relationship (or lack of) with the elder Lennon is wonderfully tense and awkward – as it should be. Shot in black and white to give it that A Hard Days Night feel, it’s a great way to introduce the audience to the already familiar characters of Lennon and Epstein, as well as establishing the main theme of the movie, which is family and their relationships.
But as well as the film deals with these “father” sequences. it’s pace is almost too fast for some character moments to keep up with and as expected there are casualties. Yes, at its core Lennon Naked is really about the singer’s failure to come to terms with his parental issues (something the real life counterpart was able to infuse into his music), but it never really sits in one place long enough to allow you to better understand where he was coming from, and what helped form some of the decisions he makes in the movie. Because it chose to cover a 4 year period rife with upheavals and drastic changes, the movie succumbs to the gluttony of material and never firmly establishes much outside of Eccleston’s performance.
There are several scenes and characters that would have benefited from more breathing room, but the frantic pace of the picture wouldn’t allow it. The Beatles are present, although in very thin, almost caricaturistic guises. It was during this time that Lennon’s interactions and feelings concerning the group began to deteriorate, but unfortunately we’re never allowed to garner that sense of emotional upheaval that came with the breakup. In fact, the breakup itself is handled in a quick, almost throwaway scene. It’s a great moment for Eccleston but only helps drive home the point that it was an underdeveloped subplot that would have benefited not only the Lennon character (and the viewer), but also the overall narrative.
Likewise, the scene where Lennon informs his first wife Cynthia that he’s leaving her for Yoko is curiously shallow. This more than any other should have been something of a benchmark for the film, a goal to strive towards. In what should have been the turning point of the movie instead comes across as another scene in a long progression of “famous Lennon moments”. The filmmakers never really spent any time with Lennon and his wife, outside of a few very brief moments, so the breakup scene had no power when it should have been a real blow thematically. It was a new beginning for Lennon and would have been a great way to kick off the second half of the film, but because the powers-that-be had no time to invest in crafting their marriage just a bit more, it unfortunately falls a bit flat and has no power.
So while the movie hits all of the proper beats – Epstein death, Beatle trip to India, “We’re more popular than Jesus” – it doesn’t do a good enough job fleshing out many of the moments that helped shape Lennon during this 4-year time period. Yoko is here, and her scenes are quite good at stripping away the excess that had built up on John’s psyche during this time, and it’s his scenes with her where the movie almost shines on – but here again the editing and pace doesn’t allow much lingering during these moments, and it’s a sad statement on how this movie was put together, despite a great Christopher Eccleston performance. It could have/should have been much more, which is a pity.
There are no Special Features anywhere to be found. I would have loved a commentary from director Edmund Coulthard or writer Robert Jones, or maybe even Eccleston, but no such luck.