BBC Video // 2010 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // December 13th, 2010
"The following drama is based on real events, although some scenes are the invention of the writer."
You can say that last part again.
Lennon Naked is the highly fictionalized account of once-Beatle John Lennon's life from the late 1960s to 1971, when he left the UK for New York never to return. Filtered through the lens of Lennon's relationship with his estranged father, it's a whirlwind of melodramatic vignettes that don't paint anyone in a flattering light, and don't add up to a satisfying movie.
John Lennon's father, Alfred (Christopher Fairbank, The Fifth Element), was a merchant seaman who was absent for much of his son's early life, and his mother, Julia, was a party girl who left John in the care of his Aunt Mimi. Lennon Naked presents John's grown-up life as the result of this broken home, affecting not only his relationship with his first wife, Cynthia (Claudie Blakley, Gosford Park), but with his bandmates (Andrew Scott, Saving Private Ryan, as Paul; Craig Cheetham, Life on Mars, as Ringo; and Jack Morgan as George), Brian Epstein (Rory Kinnear, Quantum of Solace), the press, and Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori, Torchwood).
The movie begins in 1964, with A Hard Day's Night-era Lennon seeing his father for the first time in 17 years. It's a tense meeting that ends with a jump-cut up to a Magical Mystery Tour press conference after Epstein's death, followed by a tense exchange with Paul in a men's room, followed by a tense exchange with Cynthia in a car, followed by another tense exchange with his father, and so on. For someone known as a funny guy, this version of Lennon is beyond humorless. He's angry, antagonistic, and cruel. By accounts, Lennon was all of those things, but at a trim 81 minutes, Lennon Naked edits out the happy moments.
Lennon Naked has the distinction of being a BBC movie starring Christopher Eccleston (aka. the ninth Doctor Who), but strip away the suggested authority of British accents, and this biopic feels like a hack job. It's more interested in telling a sensational story than getting the facts right.
This movie is full of imagined conversations and factual inaccuracies, but that's not why it's disappointing. I'm all for a movie that creates a fictional reality around a real person, as long as it serves the story. Lennon Naked's problem isn't that it reinvents Lennon's life; the problem is that it's boring. It's scattered, hyperbolic, and built entirely on psychobabble. I'm sure the selfishness of Lennon's parents had a profound effect on his life, but boiling down all of his relationship problems to daddy issues is lazy storytelling.
I'll give credit where it is due: Christopher Eccleston is great in this movie. Sure, his accent feels cartoony at times, and he's obviously too old to play a twenty-something Lennon (especially during the band's moptop era), but he sells the role, giving John the intensity that Robert Jones's too-intense script calls for. Plus, he has the guts to show his "Norwegian Wood" in several scenes that take the Lennon Naked title literally.
Eccleston doesn't have to do much to distinguish himself in this movie. Most of the other characters are paper-thin props for Lennon to rage against. Claudie Blakley's Cynthia is onscreen just long enough to be John's punching bag. Andrew Scott's Paul is only in a few scenes, and comes across as a vapid frat boy, too stoned to know what's going on. Only Christopher Fairbank, as John's father, and Naoko Mori, as Yoko, are around long enough to make any impact. Even so, they do more reacting than acting -- Fairbank with a glass of booze in one hand, and Mori staring out of a mane of frizzy black hair.
Everything I've read about the real John Lennon makes him sound like someone I wouldn't want to be around. But at least he made some great music. Lennon Naked's other big failing is that it all but ignores his creative life. There are references to Beatle songs, a pivotal moment where Ono comes to Lennon's house and they end up in the studio screaming into microphones, and a scene where John plays the song "Mother" for his dad, but that's about it. Even though the movie focuses on the one man, the sparse soundtrack feels like they just couldn't get the rights to any Fab Four tunes.
What music there is, comes through in a 2.0 stereo soundtrack that sounds just fine. The 1.78:1 widescreen picture is equally acceptable. It looks like good TV; nothing more. Speaking of TV, if you saw this when it inexplicably aired on PBS, don't expect any extras here.
Review content copyright © 2010 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated