On October 9th, John Lennon would have celebrated his 70th birthday. So perhaps it’s fitting to take a look at his turbulent youth and how his formative teenage years in Liverpool shaped the creative man and passionate musician he was to become.
Back in 1955, Lennon (Aaron Johnson) was an angst-ridden, rebellious 15 year-old. Raised by his prim, strict disciplinarian Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband, Uncle George (David Threlfall), he doesn’t realize that the woman he knows as vivacious, free-spirited, emotionally unstable Aunt Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who lives not far away, is really his mother and that he was “kidnapped” by Aunt Mimi at the age of five when he wanted to go with his dad to New Zealand.
About the time he discovers the complex, occasionally sordid truth, he’s become enamored with Elvis Presley and rock ‘n’ roll, starting a local band, known as The Quarrymen, and then making serious music with a left-handed guitarist, Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster), and another bloke named George Harrison (Sam Bell). This background story ends as they head to Hamburg and embark on their lives as they evolve into the Beatles.
Adapted by Matt Greenhalgh (“Control”) from Lennon’s half-sister Julia Baird’s memoir, “Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon,” and directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, it’s, essentially, a conventional, if tumultuous, family melodrama that takes its perceptive title from a school headmaster who chides cheeky young Lennon by telling him he’s going nowhere. Glimpsing Mendips, Woolton and Strawberry Fields, where local celebrations were held, one feels drenched in the dull, gray dreariness of the Liverpool that Lennon eagerly left behind.
Along with his uncanny resemblance, Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass”) captures both the insecurity and the insouciance of young Lennon, while Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas embody the complicated, fiercely competitive sisters.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Nowhere Boy” is a poignant, perceptive 7, appealing to Beatles’ aficionados and delving into the pop psychology behind Lennon’s poignant lyrics: “Mother, you had me, but I never had you.”