What did you think o’ that Dad? Lennon gets Naked for the Fatherhood season

Last night BBC4 aired the intriguing Lennon Naked drama, starring Christopher Eccleston as the man himself with Naoko Mori mainly standing around in the background playing Yoko Ono standing around in the background.  Billed as part of the BBC’s Fatherhood season, the drama is set around various real and fictive family settings from the Beatles to John’s first family, showing, er, their ultimate demise.

It’s no surprise that two key relationships highlighted are John’s with his father Alfred and John’s with his first son, poor old Julian Lennon.  In this respect last night’s feature had something sort-of new to say in that it attempted to demonstrate that John passed much of the problems he had with his father straight down to Julian.

Christopher Fairbank plays a believable and sympathetic Alfred Lennon.  But while Eccleston portrays a relatively convincing, enigmatic John, he is far less kind to the Beatle than Fairbank is to his father, presenting a self-obsessed, cruel megalomaniac who thinks he’s Jesus (Commodus anyone?).  We have to admit, though, Eccleston does a good enough job, despite the grating scouse accent.  What’s more, Alfred Lennon and John Lennon are two acting gigs which are poles apart: Fairbank has an awful lot of freedom to interpret Alfred and I can’t help feeling that he enjoyed filming this more than Eccleston, whose role demanded careful study and imitation, and promised more than a little mockery if not followed through successfully.  Related to this point, it has to be said that Eccleston really shines as John when he’s portrtaying him in his private life, away from the toe curling Beatles’ banter with the press, which allows scarce little room for interpretation.

Overall, this is a drama worth seeing, but one or two things annoyed me about it.  Mainly, the use of archive footage of the Beatles.  You’re filming a drama – make your own footage!  I know, I know, you can’t exactly fill up a baseball stadium for a TV drama, but come on, we all know the Beatles and their music, we believe they were successful.  This is a story of private lives, so why bother?  The worst thing about the footage was that it also focused on shots of various Beatles and Yoko jumping in and out of cars and planes and things in the middle in the story.  The problem here is that the veil of believability is torn down each time it happenes: just when you get into the swing of Eccleston as Lennon, they show you the real Lennon, and you think, ‘That’s what he looked like. I remember now’!  And poor old Eccleston has to start from scratch.  This is further added to by the fact that there are four Beatles and Yoko Ono for the viewer to accept, and the effect is the same for all of them.   The one enigma (as always) is George Harrison.  I wasn’t sure where Jack Morgan was going at all with this, although maybe it was a casting (or hair and makeup!) issue.  Andrew Scott and Craig Cheetham play a reasonable Paul and Ringo respectively.

We never hear of John’s death, only that he was not to return to the UK once settled in the States.  One of the twists of Lennon’s life and untimely death which this drama highlights is his unfinished family business.  In this portrayal, you can’t help but feel sorry for Alfred and Julian, and land a lot of the blame for the persistence of family difficulties on John himself, despite his difficult upbringing.  Furthermore, the connection between three Lennon generations and the repeated mistakes highlighted here makes one wish that John had lived to an older age if only to feel the pain Alfred felt and understand and make ammends for his own mistakes, as Alfred tries to.  By the way, and just for the record: Eccleston and Mori do get naked, just the once.

Faults aside, a worthy addition to the Fatherhood season.

6 Comments

  1. Yeah yeah yeah – that’s all very well. But what about the stag night? Presumably you survived unless these are pre-prepared automated postings.
    (Recorded Lennon naked, not seen it yet.)

    Comment by blackwatertown — June 24, 2010 @ 3:36 pm
  2. Ah the stag! Should I write it up? Maybe after the wedding has taken place! (that means give me a week…)

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — June 25, 2010 @ 2:38 pm
  3. Good point. Would be tactless to sabotage the big day.

    Comment by blackwatertown — June 25, 2010 @ 10:35 pm
  4. For me it was a rather a none drama. Chris didn’t have Lennon’s acidic tones, temper or pace. John stated himself that the two must important relationships in his life were Paul and Yoko. I know its fatherhood season but John’s “DADDY” issues were never overly traumatic for him, John was embarrassed by his dad and tormented but by the lost of his mother and the idea of what a dad should be, not the sponger who arrived in 1964. Puggy Rory Kinnear as Epstein was a terrible choice. As ever George Harrison was terribly portrayed in this drama. They typically had George as quiet and subservient to John and Paul. This was never the case in 68-70, George was at the height of his writing powers and confidence. George was eager to be free of the Beatles albatross, he had already left during filming for ‘Let it be’ but was convinced to come back. He would go on to to get his first Beatle A-side with ‘Something’ and then release his solo triple album “All things must pass”. Chris had some nice pensive acting moments as you would expect, and some of the Lennon mannerism were well copied, but again he had none of the inner rage of Lennon. What did you think o’ that Dad?

    Comment by Brendano — June 26, 2010 @ 10:16 am
  5. Thanks Brendano, great feedback! It’s nice to have a Lennon expert with some input, and if you’re right it would appear that the drama tilted the emphasis away from the truth, but understandably the writers also had the burden of creating a new perspective as well. I can easily see why Lennon is a great study for the theme of fatherhood, but it’s a pity we didn’t get something closer to his real experiences.

    On the theme of Naked, though, in relation to accuracy, I remember very well that when the naked picture was published John was still very much a Beatle. I didn’t get this impression from Lennon Naked, which seemed to suggest he was somewhat lost to the world at that stage.

    Comment by Comelybankingcrisis — June 26, 2010 @ 12:05 pm
  6. This is true, John was very much a Beatle when he and Yoko posed naked for the cover of the album ‘Two Virgins’. There’s the famous story when Ringo said to John “come on John, your doing all these things with Yoko but we all have to answer for your actions!” and John replied “Well Ring you only have to answer the phone!”

    Comment by Brendano — June 27, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

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