Lennon Naked is a BBC production starring Christopher Eccleston (the ninth Doctor on Doctor Who) as the late musician John Lennon. Newly available on DVD, the film covers Lennon’s life from 1964 to 1971. A title card informs us that although based on actual events, some scenes have been invented. Hardcore fans will likely nitpick the accuracy of the production, but the main problem is an overall lack of storytelling focus. It’s hard to understand exactly what motivated the filmmakers in this endeavor, other than the guaranteed audience for any product with Lennon’s name on it.
Directed by Edmund Coulthard from a script by Robert Jones, Lennon Naked seems hell bent on portraying Lennon as a cockroach. Anyone who has read a decent biography on the late Beatles legend knows he was a flawed human being. But the filmmakers have bent over backwards to make him seem like a miserable, humorless cretin. The primary focus is Lennon’s relationship with his father, Freddie Lennon. Abandoned by his father as a child, John and Freddie reunited on a very sporadic basis during the 1960s. The basic premise of Lennon Naked is that John Lennon suffered from severely stunted emotional growth as a result of his father’s absence.
Don’t expect to see much more than walk-on appearances by actors portraying the other Beatles. The film completely avoids showing Lennon at work as a musician. We don’t see him singing, playing guitar, or writing songs. The music used for the soundtrack is generally out of context, exclusively taken from Lennon’s post-Beatles career (in some cases many years beyond the film’s timeline). Instead of anything approaching a developed character, Lennon sulks around with an impenetrable scowl. He treats everyone around him with total disdain, that is everyone except Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori). But even Ono is not presented in a realistic manner, but rather merely the latest obsession of a man searching for meaning in an apparently empty life.
Again, those who have an interest in Lennon already know the man was not a saint. Yes, he abandoned his first wife Cynthia and their child Julian. Yes, he was bored with The Beatles during the group’s final days and was not always kind to his bandmates. And yes, he struggled with substance abuse, including a heroin addiction. But I have to question the decision to make a film based almost entirely on these negative attributes. With all the print interviews, audio interviews, and film footage available of the real John Lennon, there isn’t much value in a semi-fictionalized dramatization. A more well-rounded perspective on Lennon as both a private and public figure can be gained from non-fiction sources.
At 46 years old, Eccleston is a questionable choice to portray the lead role. Lennon was only 40 at the time of his murder. Eccleston does a passable vocal impersonation, but his one-note characterization makes it hard to get past the physical dissimilarity. The blame for lack of depth must be shared by the writer, who keeps the tone profoundly depressed throughout. Claudie Blakley is given virtually nothing to do as the long-suffering Cynthia Lennon. The rest of the supporting characters are similarly underwritten. Only Adrian Bower as longtime Lennon friend Pete Shotton registers as more than caricature. Bower effectively conveys the mix of bewilderment and disgust as he sees his childhood friend devolve into apathetic depression.
At eighty-one minutes the film is mercifully brief, though its stilted, perfunctory style makes it seem considerably longer. Beatles fans, whether longtime or recent, would be far better off watching the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon or the 2000 DVD release Gimme Some Truth – The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine. Eccleston fanatics may be interested in knowing that he makes the film’s title quite literal during the restaging of Lennon and Ono’s infamous Two Virgins album cover shoot. Otherwise, Lennon Naked deserves to languish in obscurity.