John Lennon's tortuous early life is not fully explained until the final third of this film. His birth-mother Julia Lennon seems to have suffered from something like bipolar disorder. Acted beautifully by Anne-Marie Duff (Fiona from Shameless) she is basically a hippy with periodic descents into supine can't-cope.
John was conceived with merchant seaman Alf during the war. In Alf's long absences Julia takes up with a series of other men, conceiving their children. Post-war, husband Alf emigrates to New Zealand wishing to take the five year old John Lennon with him. In the tussle which ensues, Julia's sister Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas from Four Weddings) "kidnaps" him to keep him in England. For the next ten years John lives with her and is subject to her frigid ways.
Actually I quite liked Aunt Mimi. When John wants her to retune from the Third Programme, she retorts "One does not change channel on Tchaikovsky”; later she reluctantly supports John when he forms his first skiffle band, The Quarrymen, muttering sotto voce "it's not exactly Bach, is it?"
So this is a film in which all the actors get meaty parts and throw themselves into relationships full of grief and angst. The world divides into those who kind of worship John Lennon (I would include Clare in this list). They will think that this film is truly magnificent.
Then there are those who while respecting his talents and drive think that JL was a deeply unpleasant person. As I am in this latter camp, and we had ample screen time with a cocksure, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, violent and offensive teenager (albeit troubled and with ample cause) I found it hard to empathise with him. So the film for me was interesting in a documentary kind of way but ultimately uninvolving. However, I know that Cosmo Landesman in the Sunday Times review confesses that he blubbed at key points of emotional turmoil so I take that to be the story from the "Lennon is God" camp.
The cinema was pretty empty (maybe 20 people) for this New Years Eve performance. Maybe everyone else was at a party or in a bar, or maybe this was Reading's response to a relatively "arty" film.
As we left I was expecting a town centre full of drunks beating each other up and vomiting on the pavement but it was eerily quiet and deserted. We were home long before the fireworks started in earnest.