Film review: Yesterday (4/5)
Everyone has heard of The Beatles. Young and old. So imagine there’s no Beatles. It’s easy if… well, that’s the premise of this Richard Curtis-Danny Boyle rom-com that is destined to be the feelgood movie of the summer.
EastEnders’ actor Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a struggling singer-songwriter who wakes from being knocked off his bicycle by a bus to discover there has been a brief global blackout which has caused a collective loss of memory. Specifically, no one remembers the world’s most famous band.
When Malik plays Paul McCartney’s ballad Yesterday to his friends, they hail his new songwriting talents, and he realises that if no one has heard of the Fab Four he has a huge back catalogue of hits to pass off as his own.
He is helped on his way to fame by Ed Sheeran, giving a decent acting performance (albeit playing himself) and by Sheeran’s fictional US manager Debra Hamer, played by Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Saturday Night Live) who taunts him with the lure of LA glamour and a touch of Cruella de Vil control in a bid to keep him focused on the prize.
All the time, Jack fears he will be found out, a key theme that keeps the audience on edge. The music, of course, is priceless, dispensing with the need for an original score. Seventeen Beatles songs have been allowed, including a punked-up version of Help! played on a hotel rooftop to more than 6,000 people on the beach at Gorleston, Suffolk where Jack and road manager Ellie Appleton, played by Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey), have been working the local clubs and pubs.
The audience is left waiting for the Jack-Ellie friendship to develop into something closer, while some of the better comedic moments are provided by Sanjeev Bhaskar, as Jack’s father Jed, and Meera Syal as his mother Sheila, such as Jack’s attempts to let them be the first people to hear his ‘new’ song Let It Be, or Leave It Be, as Sheila calls it.
While the idea for Yesterday has caught the public’s imagination, the story follows a familiar Curtis formula. Substitute the self-doubting Jack Malik for Hugh Grant’s bumbling Will Thacker, his sidekick Rocky (Joel Fry) for Rhys Ifans as Spike, and lovestruck Ellie Appleton for Julia Roberts’ vulnerable Anna Scott, all bound together by a group of friends, and you have more than a reminder of Notting Hill.
Instead of a bookshop and film-set, Yesterday’s focus is a stage and recording studio. Ellie even delivers the line “I have been waiting half my life for you to love me”, not too dissimilar to Anna Scott’s pleading: “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” And, of course, there is the obligatory meeting in the rain and race through the city to get the girl, a story device used in Notting Hill and Love Actually.
That said, Yesterday works as a “what if?” fantasy, wrapped in a comfort blanket of music nostalgia. While there are some puzzling moments in the script, such as the inclusion of two people who do remember The Beatles, writers Jack Barth and Curtis know there is no need to explain what the blackout was about, or how it could have wiped the most famous pop band (and, as it turns out, a few other icons), from world history. It does, however, pose another “what if?” What would we do if we were offered a similar opportunity to transform our life chances, even if it meant committing a massive fraud?
As with Curtis’s other outings it is a gentle and uplifting story in the Ealing Studios tradition, and anyone expecting Trainspotting director Danny Boyle to inject any grittiness will be disappointed. Those who lived through the Beatles phenomenon may see the film as an entertaining accompaniment to some of the finest music ever written.
Yesterday (PG, 1hr 57 min) was premiered as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is on general release from 28 June