Kristin Scott Thomas
Sam Taylor-Woods debut feature is an exhilarating and engaging biopic of the teenage John Lennon growing up in late 50s Liverpool.
This rites of passage film focuses on his awkward relations with his free-spirited mother Julia, who effectively abandoned him when he was five, and his straight-laced aunt Mimi who brought him up. John is only able to forget all this emotional turmoil by immersing himself in music, as we see him taking the first tentative steps towards becoming an icon of popular culture.
This warmly affectionate portrait of the young Lennon reveals the underlying insecurities which would continue to affect him in adulthood. It shows how he was tragically denied the continuing close relationship which he yearned for with Julia, a kindred spirit who introduced him to rock n roll and taught him to play the banjo, but whose mental frailty made her unreliable, while the undemonstrative but loyal Mimi was too conventionally restricting for the rebellious adolescent.
Nowhere Boy begins tantalizingly with the unmistakable opening chord of A Hard Days Night, but this is just a hint of what was to come in a film which never mentions the B word. We see Lennon buying his first guitar, performing live with his school skiffle band The Quarrymen (with Paul McCartney and George Harrison) and recording their first songs. But it ends just as they change their name to The Beatles and go off to Hamburg, which is where the 1994 film Backbeat shows them forging their reputation.
Unlike fellow video artist turned movie-maker Steve McQueen, whose extraordinary debut Hunger last year took a much more experimental approach, Taylor-Wood has produced a fairly conventional, mainstream work which does not push the boundaries of cinema. But Nowhere Boy is a thoroughly entertaining and involving film, full of arresting images, which sheds real insight into Lennons formative years.
It is sharply scripted by Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote the outstanding Ian Curtis/Joy Division biopic Control, while the period is lovingly re-created by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who also shot Taylor-Woods promising short film Love You More.
Like Lennon himself, Aaron Johnsons stunning leading performance surely heralds a star in the making. Looking the part, he presents a sympathetic portrait of an irreverent, mixed-up teenager trying to establish his own identity, as he experiments with sex and minor juvenile delinquency, while developing his talent for music.
In a subtly understated way, Kristin Scott Thomas hints at the strong love Mimi feels for John, which usually lies repressed beneath her tight-lipped manner, while as her more extrovert but emotionally vulnerable sister Julia, Anne-Marie Duff powerfully expresses a physical intimacy as well as the pain felt at giving her son up.
There is fine support from David Threlfall as Mimis easy-going husband George, who shares Johns liking for the Goons surreal humour before dying suddenly of a heart attack, and David Morrissey as Julias sternly protective husband Bobby, who does not want John to disturb his familys balance. It is suggested that John bonded with Thomas Brodie Sangsters Paul because he also lost his mother early in life, while both are impressed by the advanced guitar skills of Sam Bells George.
Nowhere Boy should appeal not just to John Lennon fans but to those who appreciate thoughtful films made with real visual flair.