Blightyvision: “Lennon Naked”

Written by Robert Jones
Directed by Edmund Coulthard
Starring Christopher EcclestonChristopher Fairbank and Allan Corduner

I’m gonna make a confession up front, gentle reader, and it may or may not color your opinion of my review: I’m not a Beatles fan.  That is not to say I dislike them; I definitely have some favorites from their catalog and I’m not too bad at Beatles Rock Band. But had “Lennon Naked” not featured Christopher Eccleston in the lead, odds are I wouldn’t have sought it out at all.  That said, I knew it would be difficult to write a review for something for which I know I’m not the intended audience, so I came in as open-minded as possible.

Thing is, the movie handles a very narrow area of John Lennon’s life — the time right around the death of Brian Epstein (played by Rory Kinnear), the arrival and influence of Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori), and the eventual disbanding of the Beatles.  Eccleston as Lennon breezes past father, son, wife, and media in a sort of disjointed progression of disappointments and unpleasant events, leaving the audience feeling as hazy and disillusioned as he himself likely did.  If that was the intent, then success.  But to be honest, I’m not sure what the intent was.

“Lennon Naked” was produced as part of BBC Four’s 2010 “Fatherhood season,” made up for the most part of social and scientific documentaries.  To that end, a lot of the piece focuses on Lennon’s relationship with his father Freddie (Fairbank) and features brief but prominent scenes with his own son Julian.  As an exploration of an odd real-world father/son relationship, it is interesting to a degree.  However, that message gets so lost amid the press conferences and recording sessions with Yoko that it becomes very easy to forget about Freddie until he has another scene with dialogue.

Eccleston in the role of Lennon, while well portrayed (even I could tell he nailed it), seemed a bit unfocused as well.  He was played as deeply unsympathetic against a series of events that begged us to sympathize with him.  I’ve seen plenty of examples of that dichotomy being played to good effect, but here it fell short, and there were times when I felt he was even being cast as the villain of his own piece.  I actually think I’d be more perturbed by this if I were a fan; as it stands, I’m just vaguely confused.

Thing is, I honestly can’t find a poor acting job in the piece.  Those playing culturally prominent characters hit their marks without becoming caricatures (now-Moriarty Andrew Scott showing up as Paul McCartney was interesting), and the more out-of-the-limelight characters were still handled very well.  Fairbank was especially good, at least whenever we got a scene with him.  The actors were not the problem.  At all.  Which is a good thing, because I showed up to see Christopher Eccleston and that’s basically what I came away with.

By the end, I felt as though I’d been bombarded with a lot of random, ill-thought-out anecdotes that came close to establishing a through-line, but never actually did.  In the back of my head I hear a college film student trying to convince me that that sort of thing is done deliberately to evoke certain feelings.  And I did entertain the thought for a bit that maybe, maybe, this was in fact constructed in such a way as to leave us feeling bewildered, lost, put-upon, and not entirely sure whether we like the guy we just saw onscreen for 82 minutes.  But there’s a method and an art to doing something like that; this just felt unpolished, like it needed ten rounds with a strict editor.

Initially I thought perhaps this was all just because I’m not a Beatles fan.  But then I heard from several friends who are, and … apparently that’s the feeling across the board.  Save for some occasional lovely cinematography and excellent performances by the cast in spite of everything, there was not much at all to love about “Lennon Naked.”  And that’s really kind of a pity, because there was so much talent to showcase.

“Lennon Naked” is available on DVD via Amazon.  Contains language, drug use, sex, and full-frontal nudity, leaving me wondering if I can get away with an “Eccles-stones” joke …