Danny Boyle’s 2019 film, ‘Yesterday’ changes the course of history and imagines a world where the Beatles never existed. Set in the present day, the movie follows the life of an artist who, after getting hit by a bus, is the only person in the world who can remember who the Beatles are.
The character of John Lennon in the film ‘Yesterday’ is played by Robert Carlyle. Making a surprise cameo appearance late on in the film, Carlyle’s character, which is uncredited, offers the protagonist advice that is significant to the conclusion of the plot.
Carlyle’s cameo role is one of the most important moments in ‘Yesterday’, and the story behind the decision to surprise viewers with an actor portraying one of the greatest artists of all time is just as significant. Adding to Boyle’s incredible plethora of past works that include ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Yesterday’ will also ultimately go down as one of the director’s most adored movies.
The Story Behind the Cameo
While the iconic Lennon cameo was a big surprise for viewers, it was also a surprise for cast members. It was revealed at a BAFTA screening that Boyle didn’t let starring man, Himesh Patel, see Carlyle until the actor portraying Lennon was in full makeup. So, when the scene was shot, Patek didn’t know how much it would actually feel like he was talking to John Lennon.
Other challenges for the filmmakers included getting the approval of Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and accurately capturing what Lennon would have looked like as a 78-year-old man, and what he might sound like. The alternative for Boyle would have undoubtedly been simply getting Sir Paul McCartney or Sir Ringo Starr to appear in the movie.
Robert Curtis, who wrote the screenplay, recently described how he went about writing the scene: “Writing is very rarely magical or surprising… But we do all know John Lennon pretty well in our hearts and minds. So as I approached the scene, I just wrote, which I always do, a conversation.
“I found it was quite easy to imagine what John would it have been like. I’m not saying it’s accurate, but we all read lots of interviews with him and his humor is very clear.”
Who is Robert Carlyle?
After striking both fear and amusement in the hearts of all viewers in his iconic portrayal of Begbie in Boyle’s 1996 classic ‘Trainspotting’, Carlyle established himself as one of the most versatile actors in British cinema.
His role in Boyle’s breakout movie also initiated a strong and durable working relationship with Boyle that would see the actor star in more of the filmmaker’s movies such as ’28 Weeks Later’ and ‘T2 Trainspotting’. The actor’s contribution to Boyle’s filmmaking is akin to Martin Scorsese’s relationship with Robert De Niro or Wes Anderson’s relationship with Willem Defoe.
But, away from his collaboration with the Manchester-born Boyle – who won an Oscar for his directing in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ – Carlyle won the hearts of many after starring in films such as ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘The Beach’.
His exploits in showbiz have seen Carlyle nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and numerous BAFTA Awards.
How Successful was ‘Yesterday’?
While not making as big a stir as some of Boyle’s most prized projects, the movie was still hugely successful in that it grossed around $154 million worldwide, which is sensational as the film only had a budget of $26 million. On the subject of budget, it’s also worth mentioning that Boyle and the crew paid $10 million for the rights to use The Beatles’ music.
Critically, the film received mixed reviews and didn’t perform as well as some of Boyle’s previous films. One British film critic said: “although this film can be a bit hokey and uncertain on narrative development, the puppyish zest and fun summoned up by Curtis and Boyle carry it along.”
Interestingly, the film is also not an original piece of work from Boyle. ‘Yesterday’ actually began as a screenplay as early as 2012 and was originally called ‘Cover Version’ and was written by Jack Barth.
The story goes that Barth was having trouble selling screenplays for a long time, and then he realized that that, “if Star Wars hadn’t been made and I just came up with the idea for Star Wars, I bet I wouldn’t be able to sell it”, and the idea for the story was created.
Ultimately, ‘Yesterday’ will surely go down as one of the best films about the influence and style of The Beatles, despite the film weirdly portraying a world in which they didn’t exist.