Richard Lester's innovative film, the Beatles' debut feature, is a timewarp memento of that brief 1963-4 phase in their history known as Beatlemania. The plot is minimal. The band play themselves, preparing for a television special in London while dodging their over-exuberant fans. They are not all that keen on rehearsals or run-throughs and are always goofing-off at crucial moments. Worse, Paul's aged grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) tags along, and his behaviour far exceeds in anarchic cussedness anything they can throw up. You may wonder why they keep excusing him on the grounds that at least he's clean. It's an in-joke referring to his role as the senior rag-and-bone man in TV's Steptoe and Son.
Richard Lester, already an old hand on TV commercials, directs inventively, using cine-verite techniques, speeded-up action, jump editing, even occasional surrealism. The Beatles are impressive buskers, and many asides are their own, rather than the screenwriter Alun Owen's, such as: "What do you call the hairstyle you're wearing?" "Arthur". The black-and-white film is packed with evocative numbers, including "I Should Have Known Better", "All My Loving", "Can't Buy Me Love", and "She Loves You".
London in the first half of the 1960s seems very different. So many policemen on the beat. Such smartly turned-out teenagers, the girls in neat skirts, the boys wearing ties. Keep your eyes peeled and you may even spot a young Phil Collins among the fans. This is also the film that gave the world the word 'grotty', but it is not a description to apply to this eternal delight which nevertheless is completely of its time.