Warning: SPOILERS for Yesterday are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, and want to remain unspoiled, bookmark this story and come back once you’re current.
The world of Yesterday is one that’s built on major change. In particular, the Beatles and several other key pop culture contributions have disappeared, thus changing the world that protagonist Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel, inhabits.
Strangely enough, the story of the film underwent some major changes itself, as one of the conditions director Danny Boyle laid out in order to secure his participation was that he wanted to see 20% to 25% of the script changed before he signed on.
Writer Richard Curtis, working from an original draft by writer Jack Barth, may have shaped Yesterday into the film that it eventually became in its final draft, but Boyle made some key changes that served as cherries on top of the completed narrative.
During a conversation with CinemaBlend on one of the press days for the film, Curtis revealed the following changes that were added into the film, through the suggestions of Danny Boyle:
So you know the way that Lily [James] was on that huge screen at the back in the final concert? That wasn’t in my original draft. That was an idea of Danny’s. And I’ve got a feeling the Liverpool thing he sort of pushed and expanded, because he was so keen that Liverpool should be represented. And he definitely added ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ at the end, and I think he asked me to shorten it, which is always a thing. Shorten it before the incident occurs.
As Richard Curtis discussed the original version of Yesterday that he’d drafted, there were quite a few points that were altered to streamline and refocus the film’s narrative. Part of those edits were revealed to take place through deleting an entire character played by Ana De Armas.
Just as her removal from the final cut of Yesterday was to prevent Jack from looking like he didn’t deserve Lily James’ Ellie, there was more content that was cut from the movie’s first act for other reasons.
In light of those cuts, the addition of the third act’s “grand sweeping gesture” seems to be part of a trade-off that was made between Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis. With De Armas’ Roxanne gone from the film, and Jack revealing his feelings to Ellie during his final concert, the love story that Yesterday wanted audiences to be invested in needed some new notes during the finale to make the story work.
Even more investment material was originally included in Curtis’s draft of the film. Initially, he had intended to include a lot more of Jack’s background as a failing rock star. Danny Boyle would step in again with some notes, as Richard Curtis pointed out his reasoning for including the material, and how it was cut, in the following terms:
I was using the example of Crocodile Dundee, where remember we had like a whole hour in Australia before the hour in New York? And I said to him, ‘In order to make the movie more realistic, we want lots and lots of stuff about his failing career.' And I think Danny felt it wasn’t necessary, actually. That you would get the failing career with one shot in a pub and some rather depressed-looking friends. He was pretty well right about everything.
Looking back at all of the changes that were made to Yesterday’s story, Richard Curtis’ admission that Danny Boyle helped shave the film into fighting shape is really easy to agree with. Not only that, but getting this look into the extensive changes made to the film really shows just how collaborative the process was between writer and director.
In the wrong hands, a film like Yesterday could have been an overly maudlin film that hit all of the standard notes a romantic-comedy is expected to. This makes the revisions that both Boyle and Curtis made to the film all the more valuable, in that they deliver a film that’s traditional enough to be accessible, but freshens the formula up to the point that it feels new and effective as well.