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Film review: Danny Boyle’s Beatles-inspired ‘Yesterday’ hits a bum note ★★☆☆☆

The best of British film-making talent couldn't realise this ridiculous idea.

There’s a great movie to be made using the music of The Beatles. This isn’t it.

The union of director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis, responsible for British cinema institutions such as Trainspotting, Love Actually and Bridget Jones, combined with the music of possibly the greatest band of all time, should have been the recipe for cinematic success.

But this particular broth was spoiled at step one, courtesy of an incredibly daft premise which imagines a world where a storm causes everyone to forget The Beatles (and Coco Cola, the Gallagher brothers, and cigarettes, apparently). Fortunately, musician Jack Malik (Himish Patel), who struggles to pack a pub, remembers the likes of ‘Abbey Road’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and surfs this lie to chart topping domination.

Complicating matters is Jack’s ‘feelings’ for childhood friend and manager, Ellie Appleton (Lily James). Bizarrely, the competing conflicts of the lie and his love never properly sync up, creating a film of two halves, neither of which work.

Hiding her movie-star status behind a messy brown fringe, Lily James continues to radiate that trademark charm which was perfectly extracted in both Baby Driver and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. This is a more thankless part, which beyond a few bars, does not utilise her incredible vocal abilities. A better version of this film lies in a role reversal with Patel, although likeable in his big screen debut, he suffers by comparison to James, sorely saddled as his love interest. Their romance also comes slightly too late in the script to fully capture the audience’s heart.

Himish Patel and Lily James. Credit: Edinburgh International Film Festival 

Aside from gross neglect of The Beatles discography, with very few songs given a full rendition, Ed Sheeran’s performance as ‘Ed Sheeran’ is shockingly distracting. Like biting into an ice cream with sensitive teeth, each of his many, many scenes send a sharp pain into your body, which never eases with every passing bite. Kate McKinnon is also out-of-place as Richard Curtis’ caricature of an obnoxious, money-hungry American manager.

The ‘lie’ that Jack wrote these songs is unintentionally hilariously handled. To mount tension, Jack is taunted by an obscured hand waving a yellow submarine like a bomb threat and dreams of James Corden exposing him on The Late, Late Show, to an inconsequential end.

Yesterday also has the misfortune of following some spectacular movie-musicals. The concert scenes don’t scale to the heights of Bohemian Rhapsody’s Live Aid climax; the tone fails to match the absurd but enjoyable romp of the Mamma Mia sequel; and Danny Boyle’s conventional direction is bland compared to the fantastical work of Dexter Fletcher on Rocketman. Watch all of those instead.

Yesterday screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is released on Friday 28 June.

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