Imagine no Beatles, it’s not easy even if you try. No Yesterday, no Blackbird, no Sgt Pepper … and then … no Imagine, no all-time best Bond theme (Live and Let Die), no all-time best comedy band name (Ringo Deathstarr), no Concert for Bangladesh to inspire Live Aid, no Withnail & I, no Life of Brian – but then again, no Charles Manson. In a Beatle-less universe, Mike McGear could be Bono’s producer and best mate and Jeff Lynne is president of the world. Screenwriter Richard Curtis’s goofy, wacky, exasperatingly enjoyable fantasy-comedy riffs on ideas like these with a story co-written with Jack Barth – although it turns out TV’s Goodnight Sweetheart got to the idea first. It is directed with dash and gusto by Danny Boyle.
Maybe it shouldn’t be any sort of evaluative factor, but the simple fact of hearing Beatles songs, the simple thought experiment of pretending to hear them for the first time, does carry a charge. And, although this film can be a bit hokey and uncertain on narrative development, the puppyish zest and fun summoned up by Curtis and Boyle carry it along. It’s ridiculous and indulgent at all times, like Russell Crowe shouting his “Are you not entertained” line from Gladiator wearing a Beatles wig. Yet there is a weird and heavy backwash of sadness at the end, a kind of melancholy comedown, and I can’t quite decide if that was intentional or not.