Do you know all the lyrics to the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby? Every line? Who sits in the church? The priest, right. But what’s he doing? Who darns socks?
At the beginning of this fantasy romance written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle, a struggling musician gets hit by a bus during a global power cut. When he wakes up in hospital in Norfolk The Beatles don’t exist. In that freaky 12-second blip of blackness, every trace of John, Paul, George and Ringo was wiped off the planet. No one knows they exist except him. So the musician passes off the Fab Four’s songs as his own. Fame beckons. Trouble is, he can’t remember all the words.
Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle – each helped save British cinema from flatlining in the mid-Nineties. But together on one film? It doesn’t feel right. The rom-com king and the edgy Trainspotting director: it’s like macaroni cheese ’n’ curry. Yet it works. Boyle, I think, scratches the polish of Curtis’s poshness – not that Yesterday is gritty by any stretch. In fact, I can see why you might find it silly or sentimental. But the film’s goofy Englishness, its warmth and earnest belief that really people are good at heart made it irresistible for me.
Ex-EastEnders actor Himesh Patel does a more than passable Hugh Grant as bumbling hopeless bloke Jack Malik, who gave up teaching to focus on his music. At the time of the accident he’s working part-time stacking shelves in Lowestoft and playing gigs to four mates in empty pubs. His gorgeous best mate Ellie (Lily James) is his manager and head over heels in love with him (a plotline more far-fetched than The Beatles’ disappearing act).
After recording a few Beatles tracks, Jack begins to generate a buzz. There’s a nice cameo from Ed Sheeran, who spots Jack on Norfolk local TV and invites him to be his supporting act on tour. Sheeran takes the piss out of himself with good grace here, admitting that he is Salieri to Jack’s Mozart. He makes one suggestion – wouldn’t it be catchier to sing Hey Dude instead of Hey Jude? Jack is soon hailed the world’s greatest living songwriter. His songs are the most downloaded ever. Ghostbusters actor Kate McKinnon is the LA superagent who takes him on as a client: “I have one question. Is this the best you can look?”
Jack’s got millions of fans, but somehow it’s not the same as having four mates who know him and love him watching in that empty pub
The film is a reminder of how much a part of our lives The Beatles are. When I became a parent, their songs were among the first I played. My toddler sings the “Nana na naaa!” from Hey Jude in her buggy. It’s impossible to imagine a world without them. The film wouldn’t work with another band.
And Yesterday has an anti-celebrity message too. Now that he’s megafamous, a shadow hangs over Jack. He’s got millions of fans, but somehow it’s not the same as having four mates who know him and love him watching in that empty pub. And Jack is a nice bloke, embarrassed by the adoration, burdened by guilt at pretending to be this staggering genius. Perhaps too late, he finds out that the greatest success in life is to love and be loved. Feelgood has become a dirty word, but when it’s pulled off with this much energy and actual feeling, it really is fab.
Yesterday is in cinemas from June 28
Read our interview with Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis here