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Though it centers on a rather odd high-concept premise, Danny Boyle's Yesterday is ultimately a very passionate love letter about its subject matter. The film may be about a world without The Beatles, but it's ultimate message is that a world like that is a lesser world. It's beautiful in its respect and adulation - and yet the movie's director was still worried about how the actual band would react to the finished product - particularly when it came to using their songs.
It was during an interview with Billboard and a discussion about the acquisition of the right to The Beatles' music that Danny Boyle both talked about his apprehension he felt regarding how the band would respond to the project, and what he actually did to remedy his emotions. According to the filmmaker, not long after signing on to direct he contacted the surviving band members and the widows of George Harrison and John Lennon, and then got a lovely response:
Once I got involved, I wrote letters to Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and the two widows, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono, respectfully laying out what I intended to do with the film. There’s obviously going to be nerves that somebody could be triggered or upset. But I got really lovely letters from Ringo and Olivia. I can’t talk about it except to say it was very special for me.
In Yesterday, the protagonist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) winds up covering a total of 17 Beatles songs, becoming a global superstar thanks to music and lyrics that he didn't create, but for which he takes credit. Not all of the tracks are exactly the same, as there is a joke made that he doesn't precisely remember every lyric to every song that he plays - but joking aside, what elevates the performance is that Patel is a wonderfully talented singer and guitar player who brings fantastic life to the classic hits.
Danny Boyle doesn't specifically mention it, but one has to imagine that the letters he wrote included not only his approach to the music for Yesterday, but also the presence of John Lennon - who is played by Robert Carlyle in the movie and is depicted as still being alive, having never been a target of an assassination attempt as an extension of his fame. This is one of the film's more controversial bits, and something that Boyle actually recognized as such when the movie was coming out, telling USA Today:
When we came to test the film, yes, there are some people that don’t like it at all. But other people like it enormously. We call it a ‘Marmite scene’ in Britain. It divides people very clearly.
Hopefully at some point we'll be able to learn how Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono felt about the sequence in more detail.
While it arrived on the big screen on June 28th, Yesterday is actually still playing in over 400 theaters around the country, but it won't be long until you'll be able to enjoy the film in the comfort of your own home. The movie will be available for digital download starting September 10th, and available for purchase on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD starting September 24th.