Rocketman recently did a great job of reminding us just how good Elton John songs are, making us want to dust off our vinyl/plastic/streaming service collection and reacquaint ourselves with his back catalogue all over again. Last year, the Bohemian Rhapsody movie did a similar thing for the music of Queen and now it’s the turn of The Beatles with Yesterday. Written by Richard Curtis, and directed by Danny Boyle, Yesterday doesn’t go down the musical/biopic route, instead taking classic Beatles songs and weaving them into a high concept romantic comedy.
Yesterday follows struggling musician Jack (Himesh Patel) and long-term best friend/manager Ellie (Lily James). Gigging in pubs is getting Jack nowhere and he’s resigned himself to the fact that he might have to give it all up and return to a life of teaching. He lands a spot on the Suffolk stage at Latitude festival, expecting it to be his big break, but only his friends and a handful of bored kids show up to watch him play.
But then, while riding home on his bike that night, something mysterious happens. An unexplained 12 second power cut hits the entire globe and in the resulting chaos, Jack is struck by a bus and flung from his bike. When he awakes in hospital, bruised and missing a couple of front teeth, he plays a Beatles song to Ellie and his friends, who all think it’s amazing. They think it’s a new song, written by Jack, and claim to have never heard of The Beatles before. After a bit of Googling, it becomes clear that The Beatles never actually existed, and only Jack is able to remember them or any of their songs. There are a few other things which crop up as we go along, that also turn out never to have existed, in what is a bit of a nice running gag throughout the movie.
Jack immediately realises his chance of success at last and sets about trying to remember as many of The Beatles songs and music as he can. His friends love the new material, and there’s also a hilarious scene where he tries to introduce his parents to a Beatles song (The Kumars, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal both on top form here), but it’s still not really working out for him at the pub gigs and weddings where he performs them. It’s only when he gets the chance to professionally lay down his tracks, and starts handing out free CDs to customers at the store where he works, that things really take off for Jack, drawing the attentions of one Mr Ed Sheeran. Ed clearly has fun sending himself up, and actually features quite heavily in the movie, particularly in these early stages – turning up at Jack’s house, asking him to come and support him on tour, arranging a 10 minute songwriting challenge between him and Jack. I’m not really a fan of Ed Sheeran but he actually turns out to be responsible for a lot of the movies humour, eventually conceding that Jack is a better songwriter than him.
As Jack starts to hit the big time, traveling to LA and being guided through the music business by new manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), we hit a bit of a mid-movie slump. Luckily though, Himesh Patel portrays Jack with such a relatable and likeable charm – his bewilderment and frustrations at the ridiculousness of the music industry, not to mention the building pressures of living the lie that his success has come from using someone else’s work, guides us nicely through these slower moments of the movie. The romance part of the story continues to play out too, with Jack and Ellie both clearly having loved each other for 20 years now, but with neither of them committing to taking it any further. Lily James is once again wonderful, despite being very underused in this role, and it’s the love story element of the movie which isn’t quite as strong as the rest of it.
The movie does manage to pull things together nicely for the final act, resolving the unease and tension that underlies much of the movie. It could have done with a bit more rom and a bit more com at time, but still manages to be an enjoyable movie and a perfect reminder of just how great The Beatles are.
Yesterday will be on general release in the UK from June 28