Image: Christopher Eccleston as John Lennon ©BBC
The other night, on a whim, I watched the BBC’s bio-drama, Lennon Naked, starring Christopher Eccleston as John Lennon.
Initial reaction: ‘Wow. I love John Lennon. And Christopher Eccleston is a great actor. This should be pretty good.’
Here’s the skinny, kids. Basically, this show highlighted all the reasons why you shouldn’t like John Lennon. And no one wants to NOT LIKE John Lennon. Its unfortunate, but he’s one of those celebrities that people will always want to admire. His untimely death cemented that. At the time of his death, Lennon wasn’t really doing much musically, and for the past 9 years or more had been living a in voluntary exile in NYC after feeling ostracised by the press in Britain. But he is now more than celebrity, he is LEGEND. And legends don’t have so many skeletons in their closets, or if they do, people want to keep that door locked tight.
Lennon’s long-term relationship with first-wife Cynthia, was looked at with a magnifying lens. It portrayed Lennon as a philandering, selfish, and egotistical husband, who was constantly leaving his wife and child without his company. It also looked in-depth at Lennon’s relationship with his estranged father, Freddie, and explored how he was affected by his father and mother’s separation which consequently led to Lennon having to choose between them. The fact itself is heartbreaking, but the interaction between Eccleston’s Lennon and Freddie (played by Christopher Fairbank), was constantly rough-going. The angst and anger Lennon must have felt is portrayed, but Eccleston mostly seemed to be ‘having a go’ at his on-screen dad. It left the viewer feeling more sympathy for the estranged father, than for the left-behind son.
This leads me to the one truly heartbreaking moment from the show. When John leaves his family, and leaves his son. The interaction on-screen between father and son is virtually non-existent, and it was meant to be that way. Lennon notoriously left everything behind when he moved to NYC with Yoko Ono to start a new life. And that meant his son too. Apparently, in reality, Lennon only reconnected with Julian Lennon in the mid-70s, after instigation from Lennon’s then girlfriend, May Pang. Julian’s relationship with his ‘mother-in-law’, Yoko Ono, was always fraught, although, Julian admits he used to ‘rain hell’ on her. Read this article from the Times, its interviews with Julian are really interesting.
The relationship with Yoko Ono, was, perhaps one of better aspects of this programme. It showed more depth than any other part. It allowed you to see that they were really two-peas-in-a-freaky-pod. It was interesting. Everything else left me feeling a bit cold, or in some cases, aggravated.
In the BBC’s programme, drama and theatricality seem to be what the director was shouting at the actors. It seemed like every few minutes, Eccleston’s Lennon was having a paddy about something or other. And if he wasn’t, he was being a self-absorbed git. Even his mannerisms seemed over the top. The show was injected with random shots of white balloons flying, which I assume were meant to be poignant. Interestingly though, it was also filled with ‘real-life’ footage of current events and events in Lennon’s life.
All in all, I won’t be watching this again. It is commendable that the producers of this wanted to show Lennon the man, rather than Lennon the legend. It did that. However, it did it crudely–creating a mismatch of truth and ideology that did not blend.