John Lennon: Here, there and everywhere

There's nothing wrong with rock biopics – but how many more John Lennon dramas do we need? By Gerard Gilbert

Is everybody looking forward to the new John Lennon biopic on BBC4 next week? It's called Lennon Naked and stars a slightly too old Christopher Eccleston as the acerbic mop-top, in a drama charting the demise of Lennon's marriage to Cynthia, his bonding with Yoko Ono, and his tricky relationships with son Julian and absentee father Alfred – a merchant seaman played by Christopher Fairbank of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet immortality. But then maybe you still haven't got round to watching Sam Taylor-Wood's 2009 Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, which harked back to John's boyhood and the influence of his mother substitute, Aunt Mimi (a slightly too posh Kristin Scott Thomas).

Or perhaps you're thinking that Lennon has enjoyed more than his fair share of biopics – a canon that also includes Backbeat, a film admittedly about the so-called "fifth Beatle", Stuart Sutcliffe, but dominated by Ian Hart's uncanny portrayal of a pre-stardom Lennon.

Hart was reprising a role he had played three years earlier in The Hours and Times, Christopher Munch's drama about a holiday to Spain that Lennon took with his manager, the gay and besotted Brian Epstein, in the summer of 1963. Did he give way to Epstein's advances?

Just about every stage of Lennon's life and career has now been turned into a movie or TV drama – all except the "lost weekend", when Lennon temporarily split from Yoko, decamped to California with their personal assistant, May Pang, and spent 18 months bar-crawling with Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon. A script about this episode is probably already in development.

Indeed, irony of irony, the only "celebrity" recently seeming to challenge Lennon's pre-eminence on the biopic front is Mark Chapman, the Catcher in the Rye-obsessed psychopath who gunned Lennon down in December 1980 (both The Killing of John Lennon and Chapter 27 give Chapman the starring role). Oh, and Jesus Christ. Lennon once provocatively declared that the Beatles were bigger than Christianity, but Jesus is probably edging Lennon in the biopic count.

But then wasn't Lennon a sort of atheist messiah, or John the Baptist? He certainly had the looks – and there was something divine about that white suit. Or can his seemingly endless fascination to film-makers be explained by something more earthbound – the way he gives such good backchat, especially when facing the press, such pithy, ready-made dialogue. Caustic, complex and compelling, Lennon still bewitches in a way that Paul, George and Ringo never will. But aren't other music legends being unfairly ignored?

Bob Dylan is a more poetic singer-songwriter every bit as "important" as Lennon, and a cultural phenomenon whose story is just as entwined with those heady times. Of course Dylan is still alive, a drawback for dramatists with libel laws to consider, while a premature end is a short-cut to movie immortality – see Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis and Brian Jones. So what about Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin? Penelope Spheeris's Joplin biopic, The Gospel According to Janis, remains stuck in development hell – but the rock'n'roll hall of fame and infamy is full of terrific stories.

Personally, I think there is a good film to be made about Led Zeppelin, or rather about their ruthless manager Peter Grant, who also looked after the Yardbirds. Which reminds me – what about Clapton? And there is comedy to be had, surely, with the Gallagher brothers, or a tragi-comedy with Keith Moon. As for Lennon, he's becoming almost too closely observed; it's beginning to feel uncomfortably fetishistic. That's not to say that Lennon Naked is a bad drama – it isn't – and Robert Jones's script is particularly good at illustrating the emptiness of the late Beatle's life. But isn't it time, to paraphrase the title of the band's final studio album, to let him be?

'Lennon Naked' screens on Wednesday 23 June at 9.30pm on BBC4

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas