Last weekend marked the 52nd anniversary of The Beatles taking to the roof of their Savile Row HQ to give what would be their final live performance. They were filming it as the climax to their final movie, Let It Be. The Beatles made movies you see, like Help! and A Hard Day’s Night and Magical Mystery Tour. They even almost made their own version of The Lord of the Rings… but JRR Tolkien wouldn’t grant them the rights because he hated them (probably).
If you think mentioning the above anniversary is just being used as a lazy reason to write a rundown of Beatles biopics… well… then… yeah. Well done. You’re right. Here we go.
‘The Linda McCartney Story’ (2000)
If this was intentionally a parody movie in the vein of Star Stories or Spinal Tap, it would genuinely be number one. As it is, this unlicensed, made-for-TV movie is so inaccurate that the plot could have been relayed by John Lennon in the ’70s. One particularly memorable, completely made-up scene which takes place during The Beatles’ break-up, features Lennon jumping the gate of the McCartney family home, throwing a rock through the front door window, and shouting “McCartney! Who the hell do you think you are?!” So bad it’s almost good… but not quite.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘Misery’
‘John and Yoko: A Love Story’ (1985)
Only reaching number nine because it’s not The Linda McCartney Story, and also because the actor playing Lennon (Mark McGann) is slightly more believable, it actually has rights to some John Lennon songs, and was made with the cooperation of Yoko Ono… which is maybe how she comes off as so likeable in the film.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, obviously.
‘Birth of the Beatles’ (1979)
Apart from Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ brilliant The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (which technically doesn’t count), this is probably the first attempt at a Beatles biopic. It’s strange to think that John Lennon was still alive to see this – a film covering 1959-1964, with a technical advisor role for Pete Best, The Beatles’ first drummer. This sort of lends the film an air of credibility… which instantly disappears again when you find out they used Beatles songs without permission, and as a result haven’t been able to re-issue it since.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘Carnival of Light’ – in that no one’s bloody heard it since it was made.
‘The Hours and the Times’ (1991)
John Lennon and Beatles manager Brian Epstein took a holiday together in 1963, shortly before The Fabs went stratospheric. This sojourn has since gone into urban myth territory with some suggesting things may have gone a bit beyond a manager/client relationship on this trip. This was suggested to Lennon shortly afterwards, who denied it. Very beautifully shot, and featuring a strong John Lennon in the shape of Ian Hart who would go on to reprise the role in Backbeat.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’
Okay bear with me here. It counts… there’s an actor portraying a Beatle at the end… IT COUNTS, OKAY? The cost of acquiring the rights to use The Beatles’ music in this movie was $10 million, nearly 40% of the film’s total cost. I could try to make a joke about this being the reason they couldn’t afford a good script or actors – but the screenplay is by Richard Curtis, and Himesh Patel is a very likeable lead. It’s good, and it’s watchable… even if it does feature Ed Sheeran.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘Baby, You’re a Rich Man’
‘Lennon Naked’ (2010)
Christopher Eccleston was 46 when he portrayed a 27-year-old Lennon, but it’s really a minor gripe since, as you may know, he’s quite a good actor. This is an account of Lennon’s final years as a Beatle. The BBC-made TV movie can be flimsy in places, but Eccleston’s portrayal of a petulant, brilliant, and damaged Lennon is compelling. As an added bonus, it stars Fleabag‘s ‘Hot Priest’, Andrew Scott, as Paul McCartney.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘Yer Blues’
‘Two of Us’ (2000)
Lennon and McCartney, estranged since the break-up of The Beatles, met up in New York in 1976. This much is true. But the resulting film is a fictional account of what they might have talked about, and how they might have reconciled their differences… sort of fan fiction with a budget. Starring Jared Harris (Chernobyl, good in everything) and Aidan Quinn, it has credibility of sorts in that it was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who directed the Let It Be movie.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… Er… have a guess
‘Nowhere Boy’ (2009)
Lennon had a fascinating and tragic relationship with his mother Julia, from whom he was largely estranged for much of his childhood, and who was run over and killed when he was 17 – an event that would go on to define his entire outlook on life. This feature, an adaptation of Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon by his half-sister Julia Baird, is sensitively handled and beautiful to look at, feeling like a proper film as opposed to a sensationalist cash-in.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘Julia’
‘The Rutles: All You Need is Cash’ (1978)
For something that actually, technically, isn’t a Beatles biopic, this is one of the most authentic of all our selections – and it has an actual Beatle in it. Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ brilliant parody, featuring fictional band The Rutles, predates career-spanning documentary The Beatles Anthology by almost 20 years but bears an uncanny resemblance to it, as we follow Dirk, Stig, Nasty and Barry from their humble beginnings in Rutland to worldwide superstardom. Oh, and it features a news reporter who looks uncannily like George Harrison… Would be number one if it was actually about The Beatles.
If it were a Rutles song it would be… ‘Cheese and Onions’
“Backbeat, the word is on the street/That the fire in your heart is out.” It’s almost as if Oasis were influenced by this band. Backbeat is a gritty Brit flick realisation of The Beatles’ hedonistic Hamburg days, and the story of Stuart Sutcliffe, one of the many Beatle bit players in contention for the position of ‘fifth Beatle’. Though it plays with the truth slightly, all the performances are stellar, and the story of the very talented and tragic Sutcliffe, incredibly moving.
If it were a Beatles song it would be… ‘In My Life’