Warning: spoilers are in play. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back once you’re current. And feel free to check out our other coverage in the meantime!
In Yesterday, the world of Himesh Patel’s Jack Malik is turned upside-down by the absence of The Beatles. However, as we move through the universe that director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis’ collaboration has created, we learn that several other things have disappeared from the world during the same freak event.
One of those things that goes missing is quite literally the last thing to be mentioned in Yesterday. It's none other than J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga. Which is an interesting choice to make, and one that CinemaBlend got to talk to Richard Curtis about during the press rounds for Yesterday. He told us how he decided to remove that particular societal contribution from the film’s world, explaining:
The Harry Potter one is the best joke, because you might think, ‘I could reproduce the Harry Potter books,' because they are so plot heavy. I mean, you couldn’t, because I think they’re so witty and beautifully written and all that. But you might think, ‘I could have a go at that.'
Thankfully for Jack Malik,and the rest of the world, that gag is merely a passing thought to button up the adventure. Imagine what anyone who remembered Harry Potter would fix in their retelling to a world that suddenly forgot the adventures of the Boy Who Lived and his friends at Hogwarts. You know someone would have written Hermione and Harry as the endgame couple, and Neville Longbottom just might have become the more important character in the franchise.
Much like re-writing the catalog of The Beatles in Yesterday, the possibility is insanely tempting. Those aren’t the only two things missing from Richard Curtis’ fictional world, as the band Oasis, the soft drink Coca-Cola, and the entire concept of cigarettes don’t exist in this world either. Plus, if you want to watch Saturday Night Live, good luck buddy; as you’ll be two days late. It's known as Thursday Night Live in this galaxy.
You can see how much fun Curtis had in removing aspects of Yesterday’s societal fabric, with some being cute nods to the film’s cast, which is the case with the Thursday Night Live gag and co-star Kate McKinnon. Others, more specifically cigarettes, occupy very personal space for Richard Curtis, as he said that without those in the world he may have had his uncle Charlie around for a little longer.
So the choices in Yesterday’s decision to wipe out particular constructs, including Harry Potter, were deliberate invention that Curtis added to his version of the original script written by Jack Barth. And in working out how many times he could play that gag, he kept a special thematic calculus in mind:
It was such an irresistible idea that you are allowed to do it. What was quite interesting was, I had to work out how many times that I could do it. Because what you didn’t want is for the audience to sort of be distracted, become too interested about everything and wonder where ‘that’ is.
It's fun to try and decide just what should and shouldn’t be in a high-concept fantasy world like the one Yesterday creates. The way the film deploys these gags is not only effective in the timing, it’s also a fun, comedic reminder that this world is different enough than the one we’re living in, but grounded enough that we can still relate.
Which may not have been the case if one more change Richard Curtis wanted to make to Yesterday’s alternate universe came to be. And this last one is probably the most insane, as Curtis had a whopper of an idea for how his world would differ from ours:
I had this idea at one point that I was going to say the color purple didn’t exist, and there was going to be a band called Deep Orange, and the designer was not allowed to use purple at any point in any clothes. Eventually I think that just became too expensive.
As he’s shown with past works such as the Blackadder and Mr. Bean properties that he’s created in the past, Richard Curtis understand the balance between what to say and what not to say with his humor. And paired with Danny Boyle’s unique sense of whimsy, it’s what makes Yesterday a film that plays so close to the hearts of those who let it in. Even if it proposes a world where J.K. Rowling can’t explain how wizards go to the bathroom in the Harry Potter universe.