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Nowhere Boy (2009) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Nowhere Boy

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson (as Sam Taylor-Wood)
Writer: Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay)
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as Aaron Johnson), Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff 

He’s a real Nowhere Boy, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody…..or something like that.

Nowhere Boy is a film by Sam Taylor-Johnson about John Lennon’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) first years, focused mainly in his adolescence and his relationship with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), who raised him, and his absentee mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who re-entered his life at a crucial moment in his young life.

When this film was released back in 2009, as a massive John Lennon fan it was a no brainer that I had to go and see this film. I knew the story via The Beatles Anthology (1995) and Imagine (1990) and various publications but from a cinematic perspective I had yet to see a film that covered theses years before the fab four went off to Hamburg (Which Backbeat did in 1994) on their way to conquering the world. 

This film of course is where future husband and wife met and became one “Taylor-Johnson” Firstly Aaron Taylor-Johnson as John Lennon is eerily similar to the young Lennon at this stage in his life. The Actor manages to pull of a convincing scouse accent and his mannerisms are pretty much spot on. Although known for being a “Working Class” hero, John Lennon actually lived in a more well to do area of Liverpool but with tragic consequences. He lived most of his early life with his Aunt Mimi as the relationship between his Father and Mother all but deteriorated by the time he was five years old. The complexities and circumstances of those early years and the passing of his Uncle George (David Threlfall) who was Mimi’s husband, convinced the young Lennon that he was perhaps a jinx on the male side of his family. His father Fred (Alfred Lennon) left Britain early in John’s life to find work in New Zealand and rarely had any contact with his Son (until he became famous) Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Lennnon deals with these issues in a way that only a young boy can. Confused, hurt, angry….its all there in the characteristics of the 15 year old John Lennnon.

What a casting choice in the role of Aunt Mimi. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as the stern aunt who John lives with. Disciplined and protective of him, Scott Thomas plays Mimi as pretty much the straight as a die and matter fo fact character that was Mimi Smith. The relationship between her and John is complex. In Nowhere Boy I was surprised to see that she bought him a guitar and showed some encouragement in his interest for music. I say that as there is the famous quote from Mimi Smith “The guitar’s all right John, but you’ll never make a living out of it”. I imagine Kristin Scott Thomas plays the role in a typical female fashion for the times. Very strong and to the point. That’s not to say that there is vulnerability in the character. Especially around Julia played by the energetic Anne-Marie Duff. The relationship between both the women in John’s life is sad in a way. They both want what is best for the boy but in different ways. Mimi and Julia are like chalk and cheese and things are very strained between them. The resentment early on in the film from Mimi towards Julia for not being a “proper” mother to John certainly is evident here and in real life effected Lennon’s life throughout his forty years on this planet.

The supporting roles of Paul McCartney played by Thomas Brodie Sangster, Uncle George played by David Threlfall and Bobby played by David Morrissey would be a crime to ignore. They play pivotal roles in young Lennon’s life and the shaping of the man he would become. Interestingly the real Paul McCartney confirmed on the film’s release that the punching scene between Paul and John never happened. That I don’t mind as all film at some point adds scenarios for purely good drama. I liked the scene and felt it bonded the two characters in a shared tragedy.

Overall Nowhere Boy is a very good attempt at covering John Lennon’s younger years before he set of with George and Paul to Hamburg along with Stuart, Pete and eventually recruiting a guy named Richard Starkey. The cinematography is a vital part of the storytelling and I felt the filmmakers captured late 1950’s perfectly. The soundtrack is also important and it was nice to see they managed to include some of the early Lennon / McCartney influences in the final product. To cap it off we get a bittersweet moment for John Lennon taking lead vocals on one of the bands first recordings with “In Spite Of All The Danger” with Lennon reminiscing over the better times with his mother who sadly passed away after an off duty police officer crashed his car into her killing her instantly. Aaron Taylor-Johnson sounds very much like Lennon in this sequence and hats off to Thomas Brodie Sangster learning to play left handed guitar to add to the authenticity. Sam Taylor-Johnson did a fine job on Nowhere Boy and I would highly recommend giving this film a watch.

Darkest Hour (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

DARKEST HOUR

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Stars: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn

Darkest Hour is set during the early days of the second world war. The fate of Great Britain hangs on the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill who must decide whether or not to negotiate with Adolf Hitler or fight against incredible odds.

Gary Oldman is playing Winston Churchill? Gary Oldman? The Gary Oldman? yes it is That Gary Oldman and what a performance by him.

I love historical movies and in particular the second world war ones that delve more into the characters of the war. Sure some folk have said this film compliments the recently released Christopher Nolan epic second war film “Dunkirk” released last year and vice versa. Yes the events in “Darkest Hour” are based around the events of Dunkirk but this movie is more character driven and gives us an insight into the pressures of one man against not just the Nazis but his own party who had little faith in him. Not comparing by any means but this is similar to the 2006 movie “Downfall” a more ground level character based story in amongst the chaos and as I said don’t think for one minute I am comparing Winston Churchill to Adolf Hitler. I’m comparing the way the story is based more on the man rather than the army.

Going back to Gary Oldman and his physical appearance in this movie is staggering to say the least. His performance and delivery are always going to be the most important elements to any actor but the look of him in this movie is equally as important and I don’t normally say that as performance should overshadow the cosmetic side of acting but it is essential here as Director Joe Wright loves a good close up and to be fair Gary Oldman spent over 200 hours in makeup undergoing a radical transformation that necessitated ‘fattening’ his body with prosthetics weighing half his own weight and this is thanks to the Makeup Department.

What I found fascinating was the different relationships Churchill has with certain characters in this movie and how he changes depending on the person. His interactions with Elizabeth Layton (James) are very tense at first and Oldman portrays a very uptight and angry man easily frustrated with incompetence and nervousness around him. On the other hand, his slightly sheepish nature around Clementine Churchill (Scott Thomas) shows another softer side to him that displays his much needed support from Clementine and in turn her strong willed persona in front of her Husband. Both Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas are enjoyable to watch and every scene they are in is intriguing and actually humorous at times.

The relationship of King George VI (Mendelsohn) and Churchill is also an interesting one. Mendelsohn’s performance is rather subtle and underplayed in comparison to Colin Firth’s portrayal in “The King’s Speech” The personal and political relationship between both men during the conflict is one that has been largely overlooked throughout history, yet the trust and loyalty these men both shared helped Great Britain navigate its perhaps most trying time and thankfully this is there in this movie. Oldman and Mendelsohn portray their characters in this spirit and their scenes are very well done.

As I said, Director Joe Wright seems to revel in close up action and it works in Darkest Hour. The heavy dialogue and intensity of the situation is aided by the facial expressions and reactions of the actors. You can sense their emotions in every scene thanks to Wright’s style. His previous work relied on this in Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina and also worked well in these movies.

Darkest Hour should be viewed with an open mind. Do not go into this with your own political baggage or personal view on Winston Churchill. This is the story of one man and his vision and stance against large odds, not only against a fascist regime but also his own party doubting his morals and decisions in the country’s hour of need. I personally enjoyed this movie because of the plot, the acting and the stakes involved. Oldman has to be nominated for an Oscar on this performance and I will be very surprised if the English actor is overlooked once more. The supporting cast add so much more to the story and James, Scott Thomas and Mendelsohn are as equally important in their roles.

I have been a fan of Gary Oldman for such a long time now and I will be surprised if he doesn’t win an Academy Award for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. He thoroughly deserved the accolade. For me Darkest Hour is Unmissable.