The Beatles: Eight Days a Week review - fresh insights, five decades on

Ron Howard delivers a straight-up rockumentary that finds new dimensions to the well-told story of the Fab Four

“It’s not culture. It’s just a good laugh”: The Beatles in the early days

Film Title: The Beatles: Eight Days a Week

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison, Richard Curtis, John Savage, Sigourney Weaver

Genre: Biography

Running Time: 135 min

Tue, Sep 13, 2016, 12:39

   

Archival footage exists to remind us that, at the time, nobody realises they are living through history. That message is pressed home throughout this enchanting documentary on The Beatles from Ron Howard.

“It’s not culture. It’s just a good laugh,” says early Paul when asked about their place in Western culture. On several occasions, we are told how the band and management felt a rush to capitalise on a craze they suspected would be over by Christmas. Nobody had been on this ride before.

That unawareness of their eventual longevity helps explain how carefree The Beatles seem during the first few years. Among the delights of Eight Days a Week is the palpable sense that the group is even more excited by the early success than is their audience. The inevitable (to us, not them) curdling infuses the later sections with real melancholy.

Howard takes no great risks with the format. Contemporaneous footage is interposed with new contributions from the surviving Beatles, younger critics and breathless middle-aged fans. But Howard has had the good sense to focus on a slightly under-examined side of the band’s career: their live presence.

Another documentary on Sergeant Pepper would be unbearable. The less this critic (and, for the purposes of this sentence, this troll) has to hear from The White Album the happier he will be. Better to be reminded how Ringo’s live drumming on Twist and Shout was more hardcore than anything Black Flag would later deliver. Among the most arresting discoveries is a shot of a teenage Sigourney Weaver – the current incarnation is also on camera – enjoying the band on a US tour. Elvis Costello and Jon Savage are good value.

One can offer no warmer praise than to say that, emerging after half a century of analysis, Howard’s film still feels necessary. See it in a cinema that is prepared to play it loud.