Before he was a Beatle, John Lennon was a troubled, working-class teen from Liverpool, who liked music. Sam Taylor-Wood's bio-pic covers these tumultuous years, as Lennon (Aaron Johnson), who lives with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas), re-connects with his vivacious but flighty mother (Anne Marie Duff); starts a skiffle group; and meets a baby-faced teen-age guitar whiz named Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster).
While there's some dancing to R&B records and the occasional short performance of Lennon's early teen-age bands, this isn't really a film about music. It is, in fact, a keenly wrought if small scale coming-of-age drama, in which a sensitive young man in a dysfunctional family struggles to harness his creativity and break free of the dull life expected of him. (It's just that this guy grows up to be that John Lennon.) The primary tension is between Lennon and his two mothers -- his Aunt Mimi, who is stern but sensible, and has raised him since he was 5; and his real mum, the lively Julia, who turns him on to American music, and whose embrace of life's pleasures edges close to recklessness.
The film is well acted by all, with Johnson navigating the few years between awkward and self-assured, all while honing Lennon's famously sardonic wit. It's never articulated, but Johnson ably depicts how Lennon's relationship with McCartney was prickly from the get-go, a volatile but productive mix of admiration and competition. In all, it's a bittersweet film about a boy who made it, but whose subsequent success was never far from his childhood sorrows. Manor