British History Challenge 52-53 | Lewis and Lennon

I can see light at the end of the tunnel. We’re almost home, nearly at the end of the long journey through British History! Before we can celebrate though, we’ve got to get through the final fifty years. Its not far now, but there’s still so much more to see…

#52: Shadowlands

General Opinion: Good if a little bland… It has its moments though

Review: I’m a great admirer of C.S Lewis. I’ve spoken before about how he hid a secret layer of medieval cosmology into the Narnia books, and if you think he just wrote about Narnia I’d suggest you check out his ‘Space Trilogy’ which is just as imaginative and has strong echoes of H.G Wells to it. Here, Anthony Hopkins does a great job of portraying the writer in his later years. Like any good biopic, here the character is believable and played with conviction, dignity and respect.  Alas, there is only one surviving audio clip of Lewis but listening to it and knowing Lewis’s writings it strikes me that Hopkins performance is reasonably close to it. He suits the role very well.

As for the plot, well, that is a different story. It focuses on Lewis in the fifties when he met and became friends with, and later married, American divorcee Joy Gresham. Much of the film centres around the latter years of their relationship when Joy was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. I don’t have a problem with the plot (which is largely true to life, if a little compressed and selective on the details.) I have a problem with the fact that the film has no feeling or emotion to it. Whilst Hopkins is good, he has no chemistry with the actress playing Joy Gresham… None. There is just nothing. Do I get a sense that these two people love each other? Nope. It just comes across as ‘meh’ most of the time. Its not to do with the script or that Hopkins and Gresham don’t seem suited or act badly, it’s just that there is no chemistry between them. None that I could see anyway.

But saying that, its still a good film and worth watching. It has some good moments, such as when Gresham’s son tries to climb into a wardrobe in Lewis’s attic or one of the seminars that he gives whilst a student is sleeping. Its not a forgettable film by any means. Some of the best scenes are the ones that establish character and I feel that if the film had stuck more to these it would have been all the better for itself.

There is no sign of CS Lewis’s best friend. I’ll give you a clue as to who he was… He wrote a book called ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ According to what I found, the relationship between Gresham and Lewis caused a bit of a rift in their friendship and apparently Tolkien ‘took it personally.’ It would have been nice to explore that aspect a little bit I feel. Although the reservations of Lewis’s friends are shown it is just not in much detail and without Tolkien. I do wonder how they could have missed out Tolkien when he was such an important part of Lewis’s life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I did like this film, but there were those little bits that annoyed and wound me up just enough. What it really needed was a bit more care and attention and I reckon that it would have been alright. As it stands though…

Rating: 7/10

#53: Nowhere Boy

General Opinion: Again, I liked it but it did play a bit loosely for my tastes…

Review:This isn’t bad. In fact I quite liked it. It was well acted and I did really feel at times as if I was watching John Lennon’s teenage years. The use of the actual locations that Lennon would have known also helps to add an air of authenticity to the film. The plot follows the basic premise of what actually happened but, alas, that is as far as it goes. That’s all it is, a basic premise of reality.

Perhaps I should backtrack. This film follows the relationship between John Lennon, his Aunt Mimi and his mother Julia and how the Beatles began to form during that time- The formation of the Quarrymen, His meeting with Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the death of his mother… Almost. These events are there, but they’re either glazed over or fudged up. Take George Harrison… His audition is shown briefly but then he isn’t mentioned again. Ok, I’ll grant you the benefit that George Harrison isn’t an important part of this film but what about McCartney? Whilst it’s true that they did meet at a church fete I find it highly dubious that their first words to each other were about masturbation. And to point out, Lennon never punched McCartney as he does in the film, at any point, and that’s according to McCartney himself. The Quarrymen weren’t all formed in a school bathroom either.

However, the biggest fudge up is reserved for the main plot. It makes out that there was some sort of animosity between Mimi and Julia. Hardly true. Granted, Mimi did have her reservations about some of her activities but they were never virtual strangers as is depicted here. Add to this the fact that the timeline has been seriously compressed and altered somewhat. Lennon visited his mother regularly from about age eleven and it was her that bought him his first guitar, not Mimi. The film presents some sort of warped picture like they were total strangers who suddenly met one day and became friends. That was never true. They were never estranged. And then, finally, for some reason they’ve put this in it:

Presumably because it was on Let it Be… That’s a traditional Liverpool folk ballad by the way. I think the only reason they included it in the film was it’s connection to Let it Be… But it still makes absolutely no sense. How many bands do you see going around singing traditional folk ballads when they start up? NONE!

But anyway… I’m grousing and this film doesn’t really deserve much flak other than what I’ve given it. Yes, it’s inaccurate, but it’s not really bad. It’s minor, little nibbley things, the finer points (AKA the bits that perplex me as to why they changed them.) Like I said at the beginning, I quite liked it.

Rating: 9/10


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