Dave here, reporting from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL one last time. It's been my first full-on film festival, and if I said I wasn't dying to lie in my bed for twenty-four hours in a deep sleep, I'd be lying. But it's been a fantastic few weeks, a reignition of my passion for film, and an experience I'll probably never forget. Below, you can read my full review of Nowhere Boy, the John Lennon picture that received its world premiere as the festival's Closing Night Gala, and then my own personal set of "awards". But first, a big thanks to Nat for making it all happen, and I really hope you've enjoyed my coverage and that you'll seek out some of these movies - should you, of course, be given the chance.
Nowhere Boy begins with a couple of coy nods to that which it avoids mentioning explicitly - the Beatles. (Clearly I have no such qualms myself.) The exhilirating screams of a crowd rise on the soundtrack as the young John Lennon races down the road - pursued by no one. It is, one feels, the perfect way to deal with a fact that isn't integral to this particular story, but will inevitably be flitting around the audience's minds. It's not ignored, it's merely unimportant for the portion of John Lennon's life the film choses to focus on. It's also exemplary of the spry, brisk humour that lightens the load of a story that errs slightly too much to the heavily emotional.
Sam Taylor-Wood's debut feature, following her acclaimed short Love You More and almost two decades of artistic work, shows her aesthetic skills to be, thankfully, pushed more in the direction of emotion than style. There remain some striking visual moments, but all are tailored to deepen the understanding we have for the characters that Taylor-Wood has made so empathic. Matt Greenhalgh's script is serviceable but suffers from similar problems to his previous musician biopic-of-sorts, Control, in that, in its choice to follow a similar template - a man stuck between two women - it risks reducing a life to a set of scales. But where Control's romantic triangle remained elusive because the interactions between the trio were limited in their complexity, Nowhere Boy not only has more angles to the three points of its shape but has a better sense of who they are.
It helps, of course, to have such a fine cast, and all three of the lead players here respond with impressive dexterity and emotion to their director, lifting the script's occasionally tired dimensions to a fresher, natural feeling. The film peaks in a powerful, confrontational scene between the three of them - Lennon (Aaron Johnson), his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mini (Kristin Scott Thomas) - where the odd dimensions of this triangle are laid bare. What is Julia to John? A mother? A sister-type? A crush? An obvious dimension to this all sets John as caught between embodiments of the sides of the stark shift that was occuring at this moment in time - Aunt Mimi is the stiff upper-lip, reserved old guard, where the estranged Julia is the free spirit of the rock 'n' roll generation. All three actors finely modulate both the surfaces and the recesses of their characters, never compromising on who they presents themselves as and playing the slips from it as natural, organic moments. Kristin Scott Thomas, you won't be surprised to learn, steals best-in-show honours, her firm, slightly cold attitude mediated with the fierceness of her love for John, expressed in the strict mothering way that seems to be the way that makes the most sense to her. That's not to discredit Duff, whose vibrant exterior cracks as her past is scrutinized by her family, or Johnson, who combines rakish charm with a slightly off-putting arrogance, as it's the combination of the three performers that really makes the film spark.
Nowhere Boy doesn't spring any particular surprises, but it's as good as it could possibly have been. Taylor-Wood's artwork, some of which I glimpsed at her talk a few days ago, was much less visually styled than intensely personal and emotional, and it's this trait she carries so strongly across to her filmmaking. Ultimately, while it's not the film's focus, Lennon's music emerges as important because it makes him individual, it escapes the need of both women in his life. Nowhere Boy is a promising debut from a director who evidently has a lot of passion for what she's doing, and thankfully seems to be quite good at doing it. B+
In the end, then, a very good film to finish with. And now, because no one can ever resist them, my own picks for the best of the fest:
Niels Arestrup, A Prophet
(runner-up: Oscar Isaac, Balibo)
Rosamund Pike, An Education
(runner-up: Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy)
Aleksei Arsentyev, Wolfy
(runner-up: Stéphane Fontaine, A Prophet)
Jacques Audiard, A Prophet
(runner-up: Jane Campion, Bright Star)
Tahar Rahim, A Prophet
(runner-up: Aaron Johnson, Nowhere Boy)
Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
(runner-up: Yana Troyanova, Wolfy)
(runner-up: Samson and Delilah)
Thanks for reading, commenting, thinking, and, hopefully, watching.