Nowhere Boy -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

LONDON -- Sam Taylor-Wood's "Nowhere Boy" is a passable look at the early life of John Lennon when he was estranged from his mother and raised by his aunt. Fans hoping to discover more about the source of the prickly Beatle's creativity will not find it here.

Strong performances by Kristin Scott Thomas as the stern Aunt Mimi, who raised the future Beatle from the age of 5, and Anne-Marie Duff as his troubled mother heighten the dramatic appeal of what otherwise is quite a dull film.

"Nowhere," the closing-night film at the London Film Festival, will open Dec. 25 in the U.K.; the Weinstein Co. has U.S. rights. Denied any Beatles songs because of the time frame and clearly unable to clear rights to the big rock tracks of the day, the film's boxoffice chances look iffy.

A noted British artist, Taylor-Wood offers a surprisingly cozy look at Lennon's early life. Matt Greenhalgh's screenplay covers the ground but opts too easily for harmony where in real life clearly there must have been serious conflict.

Aaron Johnson ("Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging") makes a decent stab at the young Lennon, though he lacks the original's insolent sneer and remarkable bite, and Thomas Brodie Sangster ("Nanny McPhee") offers a very callow 15-year-old Paul McCartney. There's very little sense that they soon will emerge as the Beatles.

Also, the film lacks any vital sense of Britain in the mid-1950s, particularly the music that was then fueling youthful ambition, and has no distinct feel for Liverpool. Aunt Mimi raised Lennon in middle-class surroundings, and they did not have the thick Scouse accents of working-class McCartney or George Harrison (Sam Bell), who shows up briefly late in the picture. Still, their speech should echo life in Liverpool, but Taylor-Wood appears tone-deaf in respect to the sound of the place.

The script is a bit ham-fisted in references to future lyrics that Lennon will write: He bicycles past Strawberry Field; his headmaster tells him he's going nowhere; and a girl taunts him as a loser. There are references to his talent for poetry and drawing, but little is made of it. While Aunt Mimi shows her intolerance of rock music, there's no sign of the way she encouraged her ward's reading.

It's all a bit conventional, which is something that John Lennon never was.

Venue: London Film Festival
Not rated, 97 minutes