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.

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