Wednesday 11 Dec 2013
Writer Robert Jones and director/producer Edmund Coulthard explain why one of the icons in British music became a fascinating subject, in a new 90-minute drama for BBC Four.
"Robert (Jones) and I spent over two years researching the story of John Lennon and developing the script," says director/producer Edmund Coulthard. "The material is already out there – most of the key players have written books, and Yoko and John did really live their lives in public in a strikingly unmediated way. There is a huge amount available in the public arena – you can spend a long time just watching interviews on You Tube."
"All the research I did was from my desk," continues writer, Robert Jones. "I read everything I could on, or by, John Lennon. I scoured websites, I read and listened to dozens of interviews and press conferences and chat shows. I listened with a new ear to his music, both solo and The Beatles.
"I decided early on that opinions amongst those closest to John seemed to differ so widely on the salient points of his life that I wouldn't base 'my' Lennon on any one version. Because of this, I didn't set out to interview Yoko (Ono) or Paul (McCartney) or Cynthia (Lennon) or Ringo (Starr), etc. I soaked up everything I could on the man, let the material settle in my mind and then went with my instincts."
Ed continues: "As the title card says, the film is based on fact – but it's not a documentary or a drama documentary. It's an interpretation – principally by Robert as writer, but by me as director and by Chris Eccleston as the leading actor. It's a drama which dares to reach inside Lennon's mind during a very turbulent period in his life.
"Lennon is fascinating," Robert continues. "He divides opinion but one way or another people feel strongly about him. Even those born long after his death seem to have a strong sense of the man, and of Yoko. The Sixties is the decade that has most influenced post-war Britain – and Lennon was arguably that decade's most influential figure.
"Lennon grew in my estimation the longer the project went on. When I was a kid, it was cooler to like the Rolling Stones than The Beatles, but it was The Beatle's music that permeated the culture. They were more than a band – they were like a national touchstone. And Lennon, marginally more than McCartney, I'd say was the driving force behind them. His contribution is hard to ignore.
"Ed and I had talked a lot about our recollections of reading the famous interview John gave to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. Lennon had just been through Primal Therapy and released Plastic Ono Band, often referred to as 'the primal album.' The music, and the interview were spontaneous, raw and outspoken."
"I'm a lifelong fan of Lennon," continues Ed. "But what really inspired this idea is listening to tapes of that interview to Rolling Stone magazine, soon after Lennon had arrived to live in America. Lennon decided to completely open up for the first time – and reveal the truth about how he felt about everyone – and tell the story of what really happened during the time he met Yoko and The Beatles started to break up. This was clearly a time when he struggled to reinvent himself as a solo artist – and once I started talking to Robert, it began to feel like the basis for a film."
Robert continues: "I hope the audience will take away the idea of a complex man who didn't always do the right thing but who confronted with dignity, humanity and integrity an existence the like of which would have been unimaginable before he set out and lived it."
"I think the greatest compliment to any film about an artist is that it sends the viewer back to the work," says Ed. "This is a film about a man I think was one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century. He was also the man who wrote Mother – and I think if nothing else, it might help you understand more about the forces which led him to write that amazing song."
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