Review: Ed Sheeran shines in Yesterday
PUBLISHED: 11:42 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:42 09 July 2019
From Latitude, to the Ramsholt Inn and the Lowestoft to Norwich bus - they all feature in Richard Curtis’ Suffolk-set rom-com, Yesterday, in which Ed Sheeran stars as the calm, ultra-chilled Ed Sheeran.
Here Andrew Clarke gives us his view on the new release.
The Beatles have contributed more to Britain's cultural life than any other single group over the last 100 years. Although, their music is synonymous with the Swinging Sixties, there is a timeless quality to their songs which can withstand endless re-invention via hundreds of cover versions.
But, what if The Beatles never existed? What if they just disappeared over night - all trace gone in the blink of an eye. This is the conceit behind Yesterday, Richard Curtis' latest feel good movie, and his first collaboration with legendary British director Danny Boyle.
But, Yesterday is more than a love letter to the music of The Beatles, it is a celebration of Suffolk and Suffolk life.
It tells the story of Jack Malik, played with engaging charm by EastEnders actor Himesh Patel, a young would-be singer-songwriter who is playing pubs and clubs trying to break through into the music big time.
It's a character not too far removed from the early life of Suffolk songster Ed Sheeran, who pops up later in the movie, as himself.
But, it's a tough life. Jack's only real fan is his life-long friend, Ellie Appleton, played in resilient down-to-earth fashion, by the ethereal Lily James. She is enthused by the fact that Jack has landed a spot in the Suffolk tent at Latitude but all Jack can see is the lack of a real audience. He is playing to an elderly couple sitting in deck chairs, a group of children playing chase games and a couple of parents talking at the bar.
Heading out of Latitude, Jack tells Ellie that its time to call it a day. It's time to get a proper job, time to join her as one of the nation's teachers. As he cycles home, something strange happens. He is knocked down by the Lowestoft to Norwich bus just as the world suffers a global powercut. It lasts for just a few seconds but, in that moment, the world changed forever. The Beatles - Paul, John, George and Ringo - have been deleted from history. No more Let It Be, She Loves You, Get Back or Yesterday... but, as circumstance would have it, Jack Malick is the only person on Earth who can remember The Fab Four.
Released from hospital, Ellie takes Jack to meet their friends at The Ramsholt Arms, on the River Deben, near Woodbridge, and presents him with a new guitar. Jack starts to sing Yesterday for his friends who are blown away by this fabulous new song. At first he thinks they are pulling his leg but a quick internet search later that night confirms that the only beatles in this world are insects with hard shells.
After a tortured, soul-searching evening, he decides that perhaps he can launch a music career by passing off The Beatles songs as his own and he starts trying to remember the lyrics to some of the greatest songs ever written.
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He and Ellie have a meeting with a record producer in a Halesworth cafe which leads to a demo session which leads to a slot on a regional TV show which leads to Ed Sheeran turning up at his door.
Much has been made of Ed Sheeran having a cameo in the film but it is more a fully-fledged supporting performance and, yes, he can act, even if he is playing himself. He appears natural and relaxed as he tells Jack he caught his performance on TV while home in Suffolk and he could help him out of a jam. His support act for his Moscow concert has dropped out, does Jack want the spot?
Jump to Moscow and Jack's 'new' song, the deliberately retro Back in the USSR, goes down a storm and Jack finds himself with a record deal and the realisation of a life-long dream,. He's going to be a rock star.
But, dreams come at a price. Ellie can't drop everything and fly off to LA, she's got a maths class to teach at the Ormiston Denes Academy in Lowestoft. As they are forced apart Jack starts to realise that Ellie has been the love of his life.
On the road with Ed Sheeran, recording in Los Angeles and attending 'The Meeting of Meetings' marketing event finds Jack caught up in a dizzying showbiz whirlwind where he has to really fight to make his opinions heard.
What price fame, is a frequent subject of showbiz movies but the combination of Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis lends this familiar scenario a sense of grittiness and reality that many wish-fulfilment movies lack. Curtis' way with words also means the dialogue is much wittier than many also ran rom-coms.
If the idea is high-concept, then it is the honesty of the portrayals that keeps this film's feet firmly on the ground. Jack and Ellie are real people, and if some of the supporting cast, particularly Joel Fry's unreliable roadie Rocky tend towards the cartoonish (think Spike out of Notting Hill) then it's the straight telling of the story that makes it believable.
On the surface Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis may appear to be strange bed-fellows but both film-makers have a finely-tuned ear to a great musical soundtrack. All the songs in Yesterday are performed live by the characters - after all The Beatles no longer exist - and the songs are chosen wisely to expand the story rather than being just an excuse to drop in another well-known song into the soundtrack.
Himesh Patel carries off the lead role with ease and has great chemistry with Lily James. The pair make a great central focus for the film and are supported by larger-than-life turns from Fry as spaced out roadie Rockie, Kate McKinnon as the hyper-tense LA agent Debra Hammer and Ed Sheeran as the calm, ultra-chilled Ed Sheeran.
Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar deserve a special shout-out for their deliciously low-key, slightly bewildered portrayal of Jack's parents and I suspect their 'can't quite get their head around what has happened' reaction to Jack's fame will strike a chord with many rock star parents.
The film ends back at the Latitude where it began but what a fantastic feel-good adventure we have been on between the two gigs. Yesterday is a glorious celebration of The Beatles music but equally importantly, it is an important celebration of Suffolk. The roof top performance of Help at the Pier Hotel, Gorleston, when Jack entertains thousands on the beach, is an especially air-punching moment.
It reminds us that music and arts do exist outside London and they thrive in Suffolk.
Yesterday, Certificate 12A, is due for release on June 28.
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