Nigel Watson reviews Yesterday, showing in our cinema until Wednesday 31 July.
Yesterday is a joyful celebration of The Beatles music without The Beatles. This is all because solar flares cause a worldwide power cut that mysteriously changes history, and as a consequence wipes out any memory of them and all evidence of their existence.
Yet, due to being knocked out in a bicycle accident during the power cut, Jack Malik does remember them and slowly discovers no one else knows who they are. Since he is a struggling musician who has faced indifference and little success in the business and has a boring warehouse job, he starts ‘writing’ and performing their classic hits.
Ellie Appleton (Lily James), his childhood friend and manager/roadie is excited to be helping to produce his new songs and kickstart his career. Not everybody is so impressed by his renewed burst of creativity, especially his parents and a neighbour who frustratingly keep interrupting him as he unveils ‘Let it Be’ on his piano at home.
The road to stardom even with a head full of Beatles songs is relatively slow but he is finally spotted by Ed Sheeran who books him as a support act and from there on nothing is stopping his road to stardom. Ellie, committed to her job as a school teacher, lets Jack jet off with his new money-hungry manager Debra Hammer – she is certainly as tough as nails – played by Kate McKinnon.
As the strangle hold of fame takes hold Jack finds it is at the cost of losing a long-term relationship with Ellie and coping with the guilt of passing off the music of The Beatles as his own.
Ed Sheeran as a mischievous version of himself – he recommends ‘Hey Jude’ should be made more modern by being retitled as ‘Hey Dude’ – is one of the many delights of Yesterday. James Corden also appears as himself hosting a late night TV show where Jack’s fraud looks like being rumbled. Another little touch is Jack meeting John Lennon played by Robert Carlyle who in this alternate universe has avoided the assassins bullet in New York and is living peacefully in the UK. Joel Fry as his useless friend/helper Rocky adds some zany comedy to the story and there is a wonderful scene in L.A. where Jack attends a marketing meeting where they can’t cope with Jack’s idea of using Abbey Road as an album cover. Best of all Himesh Patel is perfect as the befuddled Jack who is always out-of-sync with this and any other alternate worlds.
The original screenplay ‘Cover Version’, a darker vision where the main character does not achieve global fame, was penned by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook. When Richard Curtis came onboard he put the main focus on the love story between Jack and Ellie and turned it into a Beatles infused rom com.
Director Danny Boyle effortlessly brings together the romantic worldview of Curtis with The Beatles to produce a feel good movie that takes you on a splendid magical mystery tour to another world for a couple of hours.