Here’s a clip of the 2000 film Two of Us, starring Aidan Quinn and Jared Harris as Paul McCartney and John Lennon respectively. The two musicians are depicted in a fictional account of what might have gone down between them during an historic 1976 meeting which took place the day of the famous Saturday Night Live plea to get the group back together for $3 000. The movie is directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg who also directed the real Beatles in the 1970 film, Let It Be.
By 1976, Paul and John had gone down entirely separate roads. Lennon was a househusband by then, and in contrast, McCartney was the biggest show on the road with his “Silly Love Songs” as a number one record and his smash Wings Over America live album in play in the top ten. The film brings out these differences in career paths and lifestyle contrasts. But in the film, historical details are secondary to the drama, the heart of which is the hope that although the Beatles never got back together as everyone hoped they would, Lennon and McCartney were able to get it together in the end as friends before the end of Lennon’s life.
And this is where the film excels. It hits an emotional stride, helped along by a very smart script that traces the course of a single day in April 1976. Act one portrays McCartney’s visit to the Dakota, with the initial hesitancy and misgivings of two old friends catching up. Act two follows the two men to a trip to Central Park while disguised as two English gentlemen, and then to a confrontation with fans in a local coffee shop. Act three finds them back at the Dakota, talking over the past on the roof, and then in front of the TV, watching the now famous SNL sketch which, as legend has it, very nearly did tempt the two men to hightail it to the studio which was not far away from where they watched the broadcast. Through out, this film takes its subject seriously, paying a great deal of attention to these musical giants firstly as people. These are characters, not impersonations set to dialogue, which would have been an easy trap to fall into.
The range of emotions in the film is wide, from suspicion, to affection, to anger, to humour, and back again. My favourite scene is right after the elevator scene in the clip. On the roof, Lennon explains that pain is his reality, the thing that drives him. McCartney asks if whether or not it’s possible that the pain is in his own head, that if he lets it go long enough to love himself, he’d be OK. A bemused Lennon asks, “what do you see?” to which McCartney answers:
“I see a scared little boy who is blaming himself for his father’s mistakes … I see a frightened man who doesn’t know how beautiful he is…”
The best bits are from Quinn in this scene. Yet, the film lives and breathes due to the interplay between him and the excellent Harris (son of Richard), who embodies Lennon as the man-child trying to find himself after basking in the limelight for so long. It’s hard to tell whether or not the real people were as self-aware as they’re portrayed to be here. But again, this is a fantasy, a version of history as it should have been, not necessarily as it was.
And to me, I think that even if the film was not about Lennon and McCartney, it would still be powerful. Utltimately, it’s a story about friends who have a shared past which is tumultuous, a mixed blessing for both. It’s about how people change, and how relationships must change along with it. It’s about wanting to change someone’s mind, and getting them to look at themselves differently, even when they stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in every important respect. It is about the glories of the past and the uncertainties about the future. And finally, it’s about how illusory fame is, and how unimportant it’s pressures are when compared to the value of love and the strength of friendship.
For more information about the film, check out the Two of Us Wikipedia entry, which fills out some of the details.