I would like to think that if The Beatles hadn’t existed that something equally great would have come along and that there would have still been brilliant music and popular culture over the last 50 years. But what if they hadn’t, or worse than that, what if you were the only person who knew of their music. What would it be like to introduce the world to the songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo? And, if you were to do so, would you take the credit for those songs yourself.
These are all themes explored by writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle in their new cinema release, Yesterday. The premise is that struggling musician Jack Malik, played with a touching innocence by Himesh Patel, wakes up after an accident following a worldwide power black out to find he is the only person, seemingly, who knows who the Beatles are or were. Being a musician he obviously can bring to life the Fab Four’s songs, passing them off as his own and in the process becoming the biggest and most famous pop star in the world, usurping even Ed Sheeran who plays himself with a knowing lack of ego.
There are a couple of issues with the film. Firstly, it is seemingly written to a Richard Curtis template; the will they, won’t they love story with significant moment in station/airport/bus stop (delete as applicable), the bumbling but good natured best friend, the stereotypical poshness of many of the characters. And secondly, the small holes in the idea; there’s a great joke about the band Oasis not existing either which is slightly ruined by a subsequent gag about Coldplay’s Fix You, the music nerd in me just thought if you wouldn’t have had one of those bands, you’d probably not have had the other. Those are small quibbles, though, and in the hands of director Boyle, who directs this film with his typical brilliantly understated touch, they do not grate at all.
What makes this film, though, is one section, right towards the end of the feature. I’ll not let on what that is, only to say it features a beautiful cameo that reaffirms exactly everything you’d hope could have happened if history had worked out differently. This is the message at the core of this film about how you measure success and happiness, with one line, that harks back to the very earliest moments of the Beatles story, that sums it all up beautifully. It’s a moment cleverly played, written and directed and one which will grab your emotion in a fabulous way; almost thrown away but yet so poignant. Just wonderful work.
Yesterday is a film that works on so many different levels. It is obvious that Boyle and Curtis both love and understand the music of The Beatles. What they do brilliantly, though, is use the music to weave through a story whilst both telling the history of the Fab Four and bringing to life the great music. It would have been easy to put out another Beatles biopic; that they haven’t is to their great credit and means that this film will please film goers on so many different levels. But it’s greatest success is acknowledging the greatest success is happiness, and this is a film that fulfils that criteria.