Before he appeared in Kick-Ass or Oliver Stone’s Savages, Aaron Johnson starred as a young John Lennon in the 2009 biopic, Nowhere Boy. The film was based on a biography by Lennon’s half-sister, Julia Baird. The story follows John Lennon’s adolescence, his relationship with his mother and aunt, the creation of his first band, the Quarrymen, and the formation of the Beatles.
The film takes place during Lennon’s teenage years from 1955 through 1960. John Lennon’s father, Alfred Lennon was a merchant seaman who was away from his family for long stretches of time; leaving John and his mother, Julia Lennon (Anne-Marie Duff) alone during the first few years of John’s life. Julia had an affair and as result gave birth to John’s sister who is given up. John’s father, Alfred tries to keep the family together despite his wife’s affair and her love child but Julia does not want to stay with her husband. Alfred secretly takes John away to Blackpool with the hopes of leaving for New Zealand with his son. Julia and her sister, John’s aunt Mimi Smith (Kristin Scott Thomas) find them before they can leave. Alfred and Julia fight and Alfred asked John to pick which parent he wants to live with. John picked his father. Julia is distraught. Not sure what to do, John’s aunt Mimi takes him and he lives with her from the age of five until his teenage years.
Although John lives with his aunt, he continues to see his mother who is remarried and has other children. She plays Elvis records for him and teaches him the banjo.
John doesn’t do well in school and cuts classes. Mimi hoping to encourage John to stay in school buys him his first guitar with the promise he stops cutting class. John teaches himself how to play the guitar but continues to cut class. Mimi finds out and sells his guitar. Distraught, he gets Julia to give him the money to buy it back. Mimi and Julia are estranged and barely see each other.
John forms his first band, The Quarrymen with school friends. They perform at parties and fairs. At one of their performances, Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) is introduced to John and he becomes a member of the Quarrymen. Paul is a better guitarist and writes his own songs. He encourages John to start writing songs saying it will better if they have their own material. Paul lost his mother when he was fifteen. Paul becomes close with Julia and this makes John jealous. With Paul as a new member, they perform at local clubs and gain a following. George Harrison (Sam Bell) joins the band shortly after at the age of 14.
John is still conflicted about not having his father in his life and the fact that he lives with his aunt and not his mother. At a birthday party his mother throws for him, he confronts his mother. She implies that his aunt Mimi took him. John goes home and Mimi is waiting for him with a special birthday dinner. She bought him a new guitar as a surprise. Julia arrives and the past comes to the forefront as the truth is finally revealed. For John’s sake, the sister’s make up before Julia’s tragic death.
Julia who was always proud of John’s music aspirations left some money she had saved for him. John uses this money to pay for the bands first recording.
Mimi is more the mother figure and Julia acts more like a sibling. It’s interesting to see how the two sisters influenced the man John Lennon became. Both Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas played their roles beautifully. It was clear they loved and cared for John deeply. Aaron Johnson expertly channeled the cheekieness and bravado of John Lennon. He was subtle about the underlining pain John Lennon felt regarding his childhood. The subtleness of the emotion didn’t diminish the impact it had in the film. It is clear even in this first film, Aaron Johnson was on his way to bigger things. The movie is a different look at an iconic musician whose story has already played out in other films. This is a different take that offers a new way to view the man who John Lennon was before he became a legend.