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  Backbeat Meet The Beatles
Year: 1994
Director: Iain Softley
Stars: Sheryl Lee, Stephen Dorff, Ian Hart, Gary Bakewell, Chris O'Neill, Scot Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Kai Weisinger, Frieda Kelly, Paul Humpoletz, Wolf Kahler, James Doherty, Rob Spendlove, Charlie Caine, Manuel Harlan, Alexei Jawdomikov, Marcelle Duprey
Genre: Romance, Biopic, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Liverpool in 1960 and two best friends, John Lennon (Ian Hart) and Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff) are sitting in a bar singing along drunkenly with the chanteuse who has taken the stage, but these antics are not to everyone's liking. Presently, three sailors advance on the boys and confront them, only to receive a couple of finely aimed insults in return. John and Stu make a break for the door and manage to reach the street, but the sailors catch up with them and beat them, with Stu suffering the roughest treatment as John protests in his loudest voice. One day, one of these two will be famous - but the other won't make it that far...

For some reason films about the Beatles are thin on the ground, maybe because the real thing are so indelibly stamped onto the pop culture consciousness, but here was Backbeat, a film about the band that didn't feature one note of their self-penned music. In its place were a selection of cover versions, but while the tunes and the characters were inextricably linked, this was really the story of a love triangle between John, Stu and a German photographer, Astrid Kircherr (Sheryl Lee) who they meet when the band visit Hamburg.

As to who has the most magnetic personality, it's Hart who steals the show hands down. He had already played Lennon in the short film The Hours and the Times, and it was that excellent portrayal which got him the job on this production; his wisecracking Lennon is two fisted, sarcastic but strangely vulnerable. As for Dorff's Sutcliffe, the actor seems to be trying so hard to get the accent right that he lets other sides of his performance slide so we have to take it as read that he was a cool as everyone seems to think he is, and the relationship at the heart of the story exists in an odd little vacuum with history being made around it.

Yes, history. Director Iain Softley, who co-wrote the script with Michael Thomas and Stephen Ward, appears to be bending over backwards not to make his film seem too portentous, but it's the Beatles we're dealing with and sometimes the foreshadowing is irresistable. The novelty value of hearing actors portraying the famous and celebrated swearing their heads off is definitely exploited ("It's a hard day's fookin' night!" exclaims John at one point, rather self-consciously) as is seeing them behaving badly (or at least mischievously).

As for the facts, this is a free adaptation, and the hardcore Beatles fans bristled at the variations on them here, but Softley and his cast manage to stay true to the soul of the real people involved, even if Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell) comes across as humourless and controlling, Cynthia Powell (Jennifer Ehle) is determined to have babies with John and Pete Best (Scot Williams) is merely bitter. It's the romance between Stu and Astrid that fuels the drama, suggesting that John was jealous not only of Stu getting the comparitively exotic girlfriend, but that she has taken his soulmate away from him. Stu wants to concentrate on his painting, John wants him to stick with the band, but fate has other plans for him, as we see in the moving ending. As far as recreating the past goes, Backbeat is more cinematic than a typical TV movie biopic, and the songs are the better part of it, but Dorff makes a colourless lead.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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