Legendary Lennon: Five Best Cinematic Portrayals of Beatles Great

One of the most influential figures of the 20th century, John Lennon evolved from sharp-talking pop-rocker to cynical idealist in his time growing up in the public eye. With such a resonating presence, both with and without the Beatles, filmmakers have been portraying Lennon on screen since the late 1960s. We look at some of the more notable times Lennon has been portrayed.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nowhere Boy

A chronicling of Lennon’s teenage life, his first band The Quarrymen, and his relationship with his Aunt Mimi, who raised him. Johnson plays the role understated, though the lack of any real insight makes the entire experience less than remarkable. The 2009 period piece also strived for accuracy, as it brought in both Paul McCartney & Yoko Ono to help punch up the accuracies of the script who both requested Lennon’s aunt be portrayed as more loving & supportive, as she was in real life.

Paul Rudd, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

With only a brief cameo in Judd Apatow’s satirical take on dramatized musical biographies, Rudd manages to capture the whimsical spirit that was associated with the ‘67-era Beatles, but never really existed. Rudd and this co-stars were terrified of playing the Fab Four, understanding the gravitas the band played, even as a cameo in a parody, and watched Beatles documentaries non-stop to prepare. Ultimately, Rudd proved a more convincing Lennon in 2007 than the guy who provided his voice for the Yellow Submarine cartoon forty years earlier. (Yes, I know his name is John Clive.)

Ian Hart, The Hours and Times

The first of three performances where Hart would play Lennon during his career, the first was in 1991’s The Hours and Times, which focuses on the alleged affair that he had with Beatles’ Manager Brian Epstein. Hart manages to embody much of Lennon’s character, namely his understated cruelty to his wife, Cynthia, and his sincere curiosity of his own sexuality when around Epstein, which comes off as a bit naive, if anything. It’s a great contrast to the the arrogant sex symbol he’d become, as the story takes places when Beatlemania was just weeks away from exploding.

Christopher Eccleston, Lennon Naked

Focusing on the life of Lennon from 1967-1971, Eccleston captures much of his (assumed) demons, and alternates between his reluctant charm and his petulant arrogance, straddling between his public and private personas in the 2010 TV movie. It was ultimately criticized for focusing too much on the negative aspects of Lennon’s life (of which there were more than a few), and bypassing his wit, charm or his musical career. Eccleston, playing a much younger Lennon than his own age, still manages a dynamic, if not largely unflattering, performance, despite the film’s limitations.

Ian Hart, Backbeat

The second time Hart would portray Lennon (the third would be in the film Snodgrass) 1994’s Backbeat focuses on one of the most notorious phase of the Beatles’ career: Their early days as a raucous rock & roll five-piece playing non-stop gigs in Hamburg, Germany. While the focus of the film is legendary fifth Beatle Stu Sutcliffe, Hart plays Lennon as a young, arrogant, angry punk rocker before there was such a thing punk rock. Donned in leather jackets and ducktails that carried over from their days in a skiffle band, Hart perfectly quips from the stage, “My name is Lennon, John Winston Lennon. They were going to name me after my father but Bastard’s a pretty silly name, don’t you think?”

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9 Responses

  1. I think Neil Innes’ John Lennon parody in 1978’s The Rutles, as “Ron Nasty” should not have been overlooked… 😀

    1. “We’re getting wet, in a shower, because, basically, we talked it over, Chastity and myself, and we came to the conclusion that civilization is nothing more than an effective sewage system. And so by the use of plumbing we hope to demonstrate this to the world.”

  2. John Lennons battle with the FBI and trying to stay in the Americas was another part that was over looked. John once stated “I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that! That’s what’s insane about it!” You are so right Johnny! War is over IF you want it!

  3. Jared Harris in “Two of Us” deserves a mention. Aidan Quinn as Paul had the two old friends hanging out together in the mid seventies and very nearly appearing on Saturday Night Live.

  4. Isn’t it amazing that despite being the most renowned musician, and songwriter ever, McCartney has never been truly captured on TV or film. Not sure why. Is he too unrelatable? or too relatable? Obviously there are a lot of stories there. But no one has been able to capture him at all (Dirk McQuickly not withstanding)

    1. Part of that is he’s still alive, whereas there’s a mystique built around Lennon. He sort of addresses it in an interview with Howard Stern he did recently.

      That and McCartney’s a pretty charming, straightforward guy who just wants to write good pop songs. Even in the Beatles’ heyday he wasn’t this radical thinking headline maker.

  5. In His Life: the John Lennon Story. How could you leave out Philip McQuillan’s portrayal?? I thought that was dead on. Downright mesmerizing.

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