Arguably the most ballyhooed of any Beatles solo film, Paul McCartney’s return to the big screen was heralded by a hit single, No More Lonely Nights. It launched a hugely popular soundtrack album, but critics swiftly got out that the film itself wasn’t worth the ticket, and Peter Webb’s film vanished without trace beyond a standard VHS release and an obscure US DVD run. McCartney has enjoyed an enduring music career before and since; looking back from 2020, is there any merit in this critically lambasted film?
The answer, running against the tide of popular opinion, is yes; Give My Regards to Broad Street may not be one for the ages in terms of plot or tension, but then again, it’s hard to imagine that it was ever intended to. ‘When the music stops, the mystery begins,’ runs the tag-line, but Agatha Christie fans need not apply; the narrative is a simple one, and really just an excuse for various song performances, featuring new and classic material. McCartney, writing the script and starring as a musician called Paul McCartney, leans into the task of delivering musically, and unlike many music films, doesn’t treat his own material in a piecemeal fashion. Instead, he invites the audience to sit back and enjoy Yesterday, The Long and Winding Road, For No One and others in their entirety, quite against the grain of the MTV decade for fast cutting montages. And for posterity, it’s nice to see the familiar faces of George Martin, Linda McCartney and Ringo Starr all looking relaxed in the studio.
Perhaps the playful self-reflexive quality of playing yourself in a movie about yourself was too much for some to bear, but it’s hard to fault McCartney’s intent. He plays a musician whose valuable tapes are missing, suspected stolen by an erratic employee, and the film focuses on the manhunt with musical interludes. These range from a Victorian house-party to a sci-fi version of Silly Love Songs; we’re firmly in the realms of McCartney’s imagination. Oddly, despite the romantic longings featured in No More Lonely Nights, there’s zero romantic content in the film; McCartney seems happy with his relationship with Linda, and happy to focus on the ephemera of rock success. And if you’re going to launch a rock phantasmagoria about yourself, you need outlandish trimmings; step forward a random selection of guest stars including John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, wrestler Giant Haystacks, Tracy Ullman in Toyah punk mode, Bryan Brown, Barbara Bach and a monologue-ing late-in-the-day intervention from Sir Ralph Richardson; you can’t say you didn’t get some bang for your buck.
For one reason or another, The Beatles rarely were leading men in their cinematic solo work, although Ringo Starr’s awesome Caveman is probably the best of their movies outside of George Harrison’s Handmade films. It’s hard, however, to fault McCartney for giving his audience the hits; Give My Regards to Broad Street may be self-effacing, but it’s also a relaxing and enjoyable showcase for a great singer-songwriter, and it would be nice to see this back in circulation for reappraisal. At least this features the Beatles music played and sung well, presumably a requirement for McCartney after seeing travesties like the 1978 film of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; this desire to do things properly makes this film play rather better in the posterity stakes than it did back in 1984.