Lennon Naked BBC4 23June2010

It was a complete no brainer to watch Lennon Naked last night – in no small part because of the absolute dearth of decent TV at the moment.  Apparently if you don’t watch football you have no taste or critical faculties and you have to watch repeats of Lewis and Midsummer Murders as some kind of cruel punishment.

First off I should say that I was never a John Lennon (or Beatles) fan but I am a huge admirer of Christopher Eccelston since I first saw him in Shallow Grave – I would happily watch him reading his Sainsbury’s list.

When I first got seriously into music it was the years of punk and Lennon felt irrelevant.  Even now I think that Lennon Earth Father years were just plain odd – baking bread in your multi-million dollar New York penthouse does not get you closer to nature.  Self indulgent was how I saw it – and self-indulgent in the way that only extraordinarily rich and privileged people can be.

I’m not sure that Lennon Naked changed that view a great – it was a dark portrayal of a flawed and bitter man.  Talented – yes of course – but was that talent ever really tested?  I can’t help wondering if he had been indulged less if he would have achieved so much more.  I came to the music when I was older and – while I like it – it always feels to me as though there is something missing.

I don’t want to try to judge if the portrayal or the accent was accurate – there are many who have studied Lennon who can do that.  What I want in a drama is to believe.  I know that Chris Eccelston is technically too old for the part – he is older now than Lennon was when he died – but he drew me in.  It felt real.  In fact I found it almost eerie at time – especially the black and white images – and it is an astonishing level of craft that an actor with, let’s say such defined features can so completely submerge himself into a role.

It was painful to watch Lennon re-enact the abandonment he felt on those around him – in particular seeing him walk away from Julian at much the same age his father walked away from him.  Seeing him pushing away those who stuck with him, constantly asking ‘what about me?’ I started to see more of what drew him to Yoko.  Her utter stillness – wonderfully portrayed by Naoko Mori –  let John go to her and contrasted with the bedlam of creation they could share.  She didn’t challenge him or criticise him – he could abandon her but she would never walk away from him.  I was not aware before this that she had lost babies before they had Sean – it must have made the hatred shown to her even harder to bear.  It was a quietly sympathetic look at Yoko and has made me want to know more.

Browsing around Twitter and some online forums after the show I saw a lot of squealing about the nudity – avoiding the fan-girl stuff there was a lack of acceptance of the need for it.  I disagree – the Two Virgins photo is such an iconic image it would have been short-changing the story to have coyly looked away.  It’s quite brave for a male actor to do nudity – normally they emerge from immaculate bedding in freshly ironed boxers while female nudity is – perhaps – not entirely accepted but rarely raises an eyebrow.  It was also refreshing to see a realistic male body – not the shiny, waxed and pumped Hollywood version –but a man who is quite obviously healthy and fit but is normal.  (I do mean this as a compliment – although it may not sound like it!)

Credit goes to all the cast but a quick mention for Rory Kinnear – I felt short-changed that we didn’t see more of his beautifully judged Brian Epstein.

The ultimate recommendation for me about any programme is that it leaves me thinking.  As a Lennon novice I now want to read and understand more about him – so, job done.

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One of the reasons I am such an admirer of Christopher Eccelston is his deceptively effortless acting – watch this if you want to see what I mean.

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