Yesterday: Directed by Danny Boyle. With Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino, Ellise Chappell. A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate reality where they never existed.
Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie. After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed.
Trawling through the posts on Twitter it isn’t hard to come across debates about the best bands in history. On the UK front it seems that The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are generally given the nod as four of the greatest bands of all time. When anyone dares to consider the best of the lot then The Beatles are often pushed forward as the definitive choice. The Fab Four graced the music world for less than a decade but in that time they topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with a string of wonderful albums and singles. The legacy of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr was assured long ago and their influence on the generations of musicians that have followed is without question. It is hard to imagine a world without The Beatles, yet in 2019 Danny Boyle’s film, Yesterday, did just that.
Yesterday follows the musical journey of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who is a struggling singer/songwriter, hoping for the big time but finding tiny crowds at his gigs and no sign of a recording contract. It’s a tough path but Jack’s friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James), believes in him and he soldiers on. One night, during a power outage, Jack is hit by a bus and when he wakes up he finds the world is a very different place. An avid fan of The Beatles and partial to playing their music, Jack is left stunned and horrified that all of those around him have never heard of The Fab Four, the members, their albums, their songs, none of it. In this reality, The Beatles never existed. Armed with his knowledge of The Beatles’ back catalogue, Jack decides why not perform the Fab Four’s material as his own and see what happens.
The premise to Yesterday is both an interesting and frightening one. A world without The Beatles sounds like the stuff of nightmares to me. The film plays out in a charming fashion with each introduction of a new song by The Beatles warming the airwaves and Jack inevitably gaining traction as a gifted songwriter. For me, the film lacks plausibility in the respect that this alternative reality has removed The Beatles but those artists that the Fab Four influenced remain. Had the narrative explored a completely different musical scene from the 1960s to the present day it would have come across as more genuine, but that is just the fussy side of me coming to the surface. Yesterday is a lot of fun, a tribute act almost to the majesty of The Beatles, but in the end Jack’s story and his relationships are predictable with few surprises as we head towards the conclusion. The best element of the film for me is a deep and meaningful encounter Jack has with an individual that shall remain nameless. It’s a poignant scene that really enhances the narrative in its closing moments. Fans of The Beatles will still find a lot to enjoy here, to celebrate a plethora of great songs, and there is even a good cameo in there from pop sensation, Ed Sheeran, who is not afraid to depict negative elements in his character. Fair play to him.
Verdict: A fun homage to The Beatles but a predictable and sometimes implausible storyline prevents this one from soaring.