Nowhere Boy

Starring Aaron Johnson, Anne Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas. Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood.
Rated M (coarse language, mature themes and sex scene). 97 mins.

Nowhere Man was a popular Beatles' song. Nowhere Boy is the story of the boyhood and adolescence of John Lennon.

Probably, it depends on your interest in John Lennon's personal story as background to his music, his writings and his media personality. If it does, you may well be satisfied with the focus on 1957 when John discovers his mother, Julia, who lived not far away while he was brought up from the age of five by his mother's sister, Mimi, and her husband, George Smith. Mimi was a rather uptight and prim person (seemingly modelling herself on the young Queen Elizabeth), a complete contrast to her younger sister, a very outgoing woman who needed male company but who was rather fragile and prone to breakdown.

John was tormented by not knowing anything about his father and by his discovery of his mother and her perceived irresponsibility. What developed was something of a love-hate relationship – but, ultimately, more love than hate. Because, as he says at the end, Mimi was both parent to him and guardian (as she signed his passport application for him to go to play in Hamburg), he loved Mimi – and the film tells us that he phoned her every week until he died.

The film, made on location in Liverpool, certainly re-creates the city and its atmosphere in the 1950s. It is life in suburbia, school, fetes and their music groups and clubs. And the icon is Elvis Presley, John aping his look and swivel style. When Julia teaches him to play the guitar, he practises long and hard and then creates a band with his friends. He is introduced to the younger Paul McCartney and then the young George Harrison.

Aaron Johnson gives his best to the portrayal of Lennon (though the accent wavers at times). But, the interesting drama of the film is the conflict between Julia and Mimi. Since two fine actresses take these roles, the drama is quite powerful at times. Anne Marie Duff is the good-time girl, Julia, (though, on the evidence of her boxed-in performance as Leo Tolstoy's daughter, Sacha, shows how she would have been very effective as Mimi). However, Mimi is played with her accustomed tight manner, with some warmth deep under the surface, by Kristin Scott Thomas.

Which means that, even if an audience is not attracted by Lennon's life, Nowhere Boy is a serious look at a post-war British family, its trials and the effect on a young boy. But, he did become, both in life and in death, one of the most celebrated of 20th century personalities.

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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