Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Writer: Julia Baird (memoir), Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay),
Cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey
Stars: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ophelia Lovibond, Thomas Sangster
John Lennon taught the world that all you need is love. What the world may not realize is that he spent his entire childhood vying for it.
Sam Taylor-Wood’s debut feature film, Nowhere Boy tells the story of a staggeringly bitter young John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) struggling to make sense of the relationship with his happy-go-lucky mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his tight-lipped caretaker Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), and ultimately with himself.
What’s been called the “untold” story of John Lennon begins with a restless 15-year-old John grappling with his identity when he spots his free-spirited mother Julia (who gave John up in his infancy to be raised by her sister Mimi) in the background of the funeral for Mimi’s husband George (David Threlfall). John later discovers that Julia has lived around the corner from him with her husband and two daughters for the duration of his life.
John and Julia soon form a secret relationship filled with trips to the boardwalk at Blackpool, where John gets his first taste of rock ‘n’ roll; afternoon movies, where John is first exposed to Elvis; and banjo lessons. John discovers music as the one clear escape from the internal conflicts plaguing his adolescence. Enamored with rock ‘n’ roll, particularly Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” John’s once purposeless life begins to take shape as he channels all his energy into music, forming The Quarrymen, the band where he later meets a young Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster).
The film’s most powerful scene finds John and friends at a birthday party thrown for him by Julia, who is trying desperately to remain relevant as John gains hometown celebrity status through his music. After an argument between John and Julia about his father’s identity—and Julia’s explanation for why she left John to be raised Mimi—John storms off to Mimi’s and Julia follows, leading to a vehement argument between the sisters about Julia’s choices regarding John’s upbringing. Scott Thomas steals the moment, dropping the ice-queen façade she’s maintained for most of the film and revealing her need for John in her life. The rapport between Johnson and Scott Thomas offers viewers so much perspective on one of the world’s greatest talents that without their dynamic, any feeling of authenticity would be lost.
Nowhere Boy plays out like a therapy session, with the audience witnessing such an
intimacy between characters that watching these moments feel almost voyeuristic.
An exhaustingly visceral look at a fascinating artist, Nowhere Boy is a portrait of the
struggles of a boy from Liverpool who became the man whose music conquered the world.