Thirty years after John Lennon’s death, filmmakers are trying make sense out of his life. In the recently released Nowhere Boy and the BBC production, Lennon Naked, the founding Beatle’s personal demons are exposed.

While Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy focuses on Lennon’s upbringing in Liverpool and the formation of the Beatles, Edmund Coulthard’s Lennon Naked chronicles his unhappy marriage to Cynthia, relationship with Yoko Ono and the break-up of the Fab Four. What both films have in common is Lennon’s contempt for his father, who abandoned him as a child.

In the latter, Freddie Lennon (Christopher Fairbank) shows up on his son’s doorstep once the Beatles have become a worldwide phenomenon, and John (Christopher Eccleston) reluctantly takes him in. Freddie tries to explain why he left him 17 years ago in the care of his Aunt Mimi, but John’s too angry at him to listen.

Given a choice between his mother and father as a young boy, John chose dad but then went running to his mum. His decision and Freddie’s ambivalence haunted him ever since.

Just like Freddie did years before, John leaves his wife (Cynthia, played by Claudie Blakey) and son (Julian) for a new life. Yoko (Naoko Mori) symbolizes a fresh start, but in no way does the film blame her for John’s radical shift. Certainly Yoko’s artistic sensibility sways John, but the decisions to move beyond the Beatles and ultimately to New York with Yoko are entirely his own.

John loses interest in the band after Magical Mystery Tour and soon proclaims in a meeting that “it’s over.” Still, Paul McCartney (Andrew Scott) is the first to officially leave the group, which incenses John, who throws a brick through Paul’s window.

Accused of being a drug addict by Cynthia’s mother, John does smoke a spliff, takes LSD for his meeting with Bridget Bardot (“I was on acid, she was on the wane”) and dabbles with heroin. The “naked” part of the title refers to John and Yoko’s nude self-potraits. But it’s really a metaphor for stripping away the layers of history so that we can truly understand than man behind the round, wire-framed glasses.


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