Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen “Yesterday” or don’t want to know any surprises from the movie, stop reading now.
If you saw “Yesterday,” there was one scene that most likely took your breath away.
No, not when the Beatles catalog first goes missing from Earth.
Or when Jack (Himesh Patel) starts belting out “All You Need Is Love” at Wembley Stadium.
It was when Jack takes a road trip to a remote English beach house and the bespectacled man who opens the door is none other than John Lennon, imagined to be an old man who chose a quiet life with the woman he loved over fame and fortune.
Director Danny Boyle says he knows bringing Lennon back to life for “Yesterday” would delight some fans, while striking others as blasphemy.
“When we came to test the film, yes, there are some people that don’t like it at all. But other people like it enormously,” says Boyle. “We call it a ‘Marmite scene’ in Britain. It divides people very clearly.”
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But Boyle says even a more lighthearted Beatles tale like “Yesterday” would inevitably touch on Lennon’s death. The script, written by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) “was written from the heart,” the director says, and the team worked to incorporate the scene in an “appropriate way.”
As such, Boyle notes that they have not used the imagined Lennon moment in marketing materials or the trailer to sell “Yesterday” to the masses. “We worked very, very hard to make sure it remained a very pure moment,” he says.
Who plays Lennon in the film? For now, no one is saying.
“I know the actor – and this wasn’t the reason for casting him – but I also knew that he was a John Lennon fan. He knew more than any of us about John,” says Boyle. “That was wonderful, because it was a proper reverence and respect, really. The only thing he asked was that he didn’t want a credit…to try and avoid drawing attention to it in any way other than its appearance in the story.”
On the day of filming in a coastal hamlet of Suffolk, Boyle purposefully kept the older Lennon lookalike and his lead actor apart. “We didn’t get the actors to meet beforehand,” says Boyle. “We waited until the door opened so (Patel) saw him for the first time (on camera).” Later, as the sun set down over the last line of dialogue between the pair, Lennon appeared lit as a silhouette – an image Boyle describes as poetic. “That was a little gift that we were given” that day, he says.
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What do the surviving Beatles think of the scene? “We sent everyone the finished film, and we got a lovely message from Ringo and Barbara (Bach), and a lovely message back from Olivia (Harrison), George’s widow. I don’t think Paul’s seen the film yet but he saw and liked the trailer,” says Boyle.
Mostly, Boyle says the Lennon “Yesterday” scene illustrates the extraordinary way “cinema, above all art forms, deals with and changes time.
“Somebody’s life was robbed and movies can give him back to us, just for a moment,” says Boyle. “And I love that about movies.”