Yesterday

 

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The combination of director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis conjures up celluloid nirvana for romcom addicts.

 

Yesterday

All his troubles seemed so far away: Lily James, Himesh Patel and Alexander Arnold

  

Either you like Richard Curtis or you don’t. Seriously, there are people who actually loathe Love Actually. But Curtis has found a formula that he does incredibly well and he has virtually turned the British romcom into a one-man industry. Here, we have much the same stuff – celebrity rubbing shoulders with ordinary life, unrequited love, the last-minute dash to some random romantic destination and an overarching Englishness that the Americans find irresistible. Oh, and let’s not forget the certifiable best friend that we eventually come to cherish because, ultimately, his heart is in the right place. This time, though, Curtis has come up with a peach of a premise with which to exploit his favourite tropes – and he’s got Danny Boyle to direct it.

 

Richard Curtis has always confessed a weakness for popular music. And here he’s got the finest soundtrack of any film this decade handed to him on a (very expensive) plate. Who would have thought that the best film about The Beatles this century would have starred Tamwar Masood from EastEnders? Actually, Yesterday is stuffed full of surprises, which only men with the wherewithal and the calibre of Boyle and Curtis could pull off.

 

The elixir proffered by them is that, even at one’s lowest ebb, miracles can happen. Here, the miracle is a truly fantastical one in which, following a global blackout, the world’s entire populace has some singular memories erased. However, it’s a different story for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, from EastEnders), a struggling singer-songwriter, who at the time is knocked off his bike by a bus and ends up in hospital without his front teeth. As his childhood friend and manager Ellie (Lily James, delightful) leaves his bedside, he asks her, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" She giggles, then asks him why sixty-four? Later, when he sings McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’ on the brand new guitar she has given him, she and their friends Nick and Carol (Harry Michell – son of Roger – and Sophia Di Martino) are stupefied. Carol concedes it’s not quite in the same league as Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ but the others think it’s really, really special. It then dawns on Jack that The Beatles’ entire songbook has been wiped from the public’s collective consciousness. The fun part is watching Jack try to recollect the Fab Four’s lyrics as he realises he’s sitting on a career goldmine. Then, with the help of a hugely successful singer-songwriter called Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran, perfect), with no hang-ups about self-image, Jack sips from the poisoned chalice of fame and fortune and jeopardises everything that he once held dear…

 

Incidentally, the world in Yesterday has not only forgotten The Beatles. During a furious Googling session, Jack finds no trace of Oasis (which would make sense) and when he types in ‘Coke’, up pops a photograph of Pablo Escobar. The film is full of such savvy comic asides, pushing the laughter quotient up there with the tears and the music. Danny Boyle directs with his usual flair, there are a heap-load of laugh-out lines courtesy of Curtis and the supporting cast is ace (Kate McKinnon devours her role as a straight-talking music exec). The songs aren’t half-bad, either. If a by-product of the cinema is to deliver joy to millions, then the romcom is a gold standard of the medium. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll see a smarter, more exhilarating romcom this year.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Harry Michel, Sophia Di Martino, Sarah Lancashire, Alexansder Arnold, James Corden, Lamorne Morris, Ellise Chappell, Justin Edwards, Vincent Franklin, Karl Theobald, Camilla Rutherford, Elizabeth Berrington.

 

Dir Danny Boyle, Pro Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Bernie Bellew, Matthew James Wilkinson,  Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle, Screenplay Richard Curtis, Ph Christopher Ross, Pro Des Patrick Rolfe, Ed Jon Harris, Music Daniel Pemberton, Costumes Liza Bracey.

 

Working Title Films/Decibel Films-Universal Pictures.

116 mins. UK/USA. 2019. Rel: 28 June 2019. Cert. 12A.