Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sophia Di Martino, Alexander Arnold
Director: Danny Boyle
Rating: * * * *
Without false modesty, your reviewer stakes the claim to being the world's second greatest Beatles fan. The Numero Uno spot goes to fellow Mumbaikar Ronnie Desai at whose feet outside the college canteen, music lovers heard, loved and adored the Fab Four from Liverpool who have inspired Danny Boyle's new film. Titled Yesterday after the most covered song of all time (more than 3,000 covers and still counting) the movie includes the version sung by the lead character Jack Malik played by Himesh Patel, a hugely talented British-Indian who performs the Beatles chartbusters with aplomb. Shabash!
Let me take you then, gentle reader, not through the 'Strawberry Fields' of Maharashtra but a 'Magical Mystery Tour' of the creative outpourings of Mop Tops John, Paul, George and Ringo who studied Indian music and spirituality in India and regaled Germans in clubs in Hamburg though these milestones are omitted from the script by Richard Curtis of Notting Hill and Love Actually fame. Instead the film incorporates their phenomenal tours of the USSR and the USA. But Yesterday is counter-history, not a bio pic with Curtis/Boyle employing the conceit of a global power failure which erases proof of the Beatles existence across the universe. Imagine a world without the most influential pop group ever! And Coca Cola and cigarettes and Harry Potter too!
Only Jack (Patel, impressive) who is knocked down by a bus at the exact moment of the blackout remembers them all, especially the Beatles songs. Jack works part time in a store while pursuing dreams of succeeding as a singer-songwriter with moral support from best friend cum manager Ellie (Lily James, lovely).
Post the blackout, Jack becomes a phenomenal success thanks to the Beatles music he passes off as his own. This alternate universe to which Jack has been transported after the accident, is, fundamentally, decent. Just like the Beatles songs which extolled idealism, sweetness and innocence. 'Love is all you need... Love, love me do', they sang. We did. Still do. And all they wanted to do was to hold your hand, while strolling down Penny Lane eight days a week after a hard day's night.
It's not a perfect world though. Fr McKenzie, in the mournful 'Eleanor Rigby' lament, writes sermons no one wants to hear. There is Ed Sheeran, playing himself, and insisting Hey Dude sounds better than 'Hey Jude'. That too, after someone says he is John the Baptist to Jack's Messiah.
And there's Jack's new manager Debra Hammer ( Kate McKinnon) a nasty creature who tells him cruelly, he is only a product for making a lot of money most of which will be retained by the music producers.
The narrative's well-etched characters include a pair of middle aged stalkers who are not interested in exposing Jack. Rather, they want to thank him.What would the world be without the Beatles, they ask. A poorer place, we say.
But how do Curtis and Boyle address the primary issue of fraud and deceit?
The conscience-stricken Jack confesses, hallelujah, when he realises that what really matters, is not fame and success but authenticity and Ellie, who stood by him when he was a 'nowhere man.'
Yesterday then is about themes of integrity, loyalty and friendship, explored through interesting characters who accompany Jack ( and Ellie ) down 'the long and winding road' like their best buddy Rocky (Joel Fry, sweet )
I must confess to being misty-eyed for the most part especially when Jack encounters 78 year old John Lennon, who lives alone, happy and content, in a cottage by the sea.( The real Lennon as was shot dead on a New York street at age 40. ) Yesterday is a nostalgic triumph.