Film Review: NOWHERE BOY

Directed: Sam Taylor-Wood
Written by Julia Baird and Matt Greenhalgh
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Sangster, Josh Bolt, David Morrissey
Released in UK December 2009, USA, October, 2010
Running time: 98 minutes

I can’t help but wonder if one’s enjoyment of Nowhere Boy might depend at least partially on “being there.” It is almost impossible to convey how different the music that the Beetles introduced sounded when compared to Motown, Elvis, and most of rock at that time. I still remember the very first time I heard it. It was on a car radio. How I was immediately mesmerized. Hearing those early tunes today, I am struck by how simple they sound. Almost dull. Yet at the time, and especially with their later music, they blew us away. Yet Nowhere Boy is only peripherally a movie about music. Music saves Lennon at a moment when he needed saving. That’s basically how it enters into the plot.

PLOT: John Lennon is being raised by his Aunt Mimi and her beloved husband, who supplies him with the affection his aunt cannot give. When his uncle dies, John sets out on a path that will lead him to his natural mother and also to the music that will change his life. Julia, it turns out, lives just down the lane. She is seductive, lively, cool: everything his aunt is not. She is also bi-polar. He spends more and more time with her and in the tradition of teenage boys both now and then starts up a band after she teaches him how to play the banjo. Eventually the two women are vying for his affection and allegiance. The resolution is initially heart-warming, but events overtake his brief joy.

This is fairly insightful look at the circumstances that formed John Lennon. We don’t learn much about the early days of the Beatles, but we do come to understand some of the tropes Lennon will deal with in his songs. It is strong on atmosphere and has some terrific performances. I hope another film-maker looks more closely at the music someday.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.