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Yesterday 2019 *****

The back-catalogue of popular music giants is a new box-office formula; Abba, Queen and Elton John have all been big winners of late. Yesterday has a slight, simple premise to which to hang Beatles tunes, wrapped around a Richard Curtis comic-romance. Unsuccessful singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and his ever-positive manager Ellie Appleton  (Lily James) have an unrequited love, but when Jack hits his head during a bicycle accident, he wakes up in a world where the music of the Beatles is unknown. Fame and fortune await Jack as he copycats the hits from memory, but somehow Ellie is not amongst the crowd attracted by Jack’s show-business success.  Until Jack summons up the truth to reveal the source of his success, and to embrace his own inner life instead of someone else’s, the walls of his deceit close in on him even as the spotlights beckon.

This is very much the Richard Curtis of Love Actually, making a virtue of picking the simple and ordinary out of a glossy picture-book world, artfully imagined by Danny Boyle. Himesh has an immense charm, matched by James, and there’s a breakout comic sidekick performance from Joel Fry as Rocky. The trailer rather mis-sells the drama, using a clip of James Corden surprising Jack with a appearance from the two surviving Beatles. This turns out to be a dream sequence, and when Jack’s search for the source of the music leads him to a moving end, the stage is set for an emotional performance at Wembley Stadium.

Yesterday is what a summer counter-programmer should be, light, fast, entertaining, and the kind of film that’s easy to recommend. It benefits from funny support turns from Kate McKinnon as a money-grubbing manager and Ed Sheeran, the latter sending himself up as a wrong-headed egoist; a sweet throwaway gag has him unabashedly having his own song as a ringtone.

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