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Give My Regards to Broad Street

****
1984

‘…leans into the task of delivering musically, and…doesn’t treat his own material in a piecemeal fashion…’

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.

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    • It’s very odd, but I like it! And as has been pointed out elsewhere, he paid for it himself, so nobody got damaged; he did it in his own terms.

  1. I am a big fan of The Beatles and their solo work. I have not seen this film and never gave it a thought but I would like to see it. I think it has to be seen under the light that is probably a fun movie with good songs, not a Scorcese film.

    • Bang on! That’s what I like about it, not a serious drama in any way, just a light entertainment that showcases good music. Not sure if it works in all territories, but the link below the review is for the whole film if you have time to take a look; thanks for the comment!

  2. I’d completely forgotten about this – I used to own the soundtrack on cassette and even as a young teen figured out how to play the Yesterday / Here, There and Everywhere / Wanderlust medley with a mate, but I never saw the film. Fortunately it’s available online nowadays. It’s certainly no masterpiece, just some lighthearted amiable nonsense, but it’s really just an excuse to compile several McCartney and Beatles songs. From today’s perspective it’s a nice exercise in nostalgia (for the music) and archive including clips of London before I lived here – I never realised there used to be a Broad Street railway station right next to Liverpool Street, and Butler’s Wharf looks quite different now. The music production has a glossy sheen but it’s performed with a winning innocence and charm – and the set for Silly Love Songs is bizarre!

    • Totally! And the reasons you describe are why I feel it’s worth a re-release, on streaming at least. If the music is good in a musical film, I can forgive a few eccentricities. The scene of the car driving around to Long and Winding Road is a valuable document of the past in itself. But yes, I’m not a f as n of the future robot Silly Love Songs bit, but what’s rock and roll without a bit of excess?

  3. Wow. I love this post. Thanks for looking at Give My Regards… and finding something about it that you enjoy. I’ve watched this film (I own a copy…it’s somewhere.) and I don’t hate it. On the other hand, I always viewed this as something that was released for fans (much like the “Club Sandwich” fanzine) rather than a standalone movie to work in isolation … or work like a regular movie. Or be compared with a regular movie… Whatever.

    • Thanks for this! The Broad Street wars continue on this blog! McCartney has many admirers, why not put his best work in a film? And have his own choice of orchestrations? And see him perform? Maybe fans only apply, but McCartney has many fans. Not all movies grab us with story; some gain from repeat viewing, or work as background, and this movie works for me. There’s no tears of a clown, no hand-wringing about the past, just music, and surely that’s what we’d want from McCartney. I like that it’s his movie, not a copy of someone elses. I’m a fan and that’s all I need from a McCartney movie.

      • I’m a fan too, and the film makes me cringe BUT he tried something he hadn’t really done before and the film is very much in the category of “things that he does”. Like when he turned to classical music for a spell (I rather enjoyed that). I’ll happily sit and watch the film for the music.

        • Totally, and I’ll be honest and say that there are things in the film that have a cringe-factor for sure. But I can’t imagine McCartney thought we’d be gripped by the mystery, or by his huge acting performance. He deliberately strips these things away to focus on the music, which sounds great. I’ve had For No One in my head for days, had forgotten what a great little song it is. It’s easy to get a film onto streaming, and I feel there’s enough McCartney/Beatles fans out there that would be interested in seeing and hearing this film. You’re lucky to have a copy!

          • The versions of the some of the songs in the film are really great – For No One is one of them for me, too! (I’m sure I have the album somewhere, too. I know I do. I probably got both in my “collector” phase.)

            • Yup, I’ve got the vinyl somewhere, even if I have no means of playing it! Can’t help wondering if McCartney ever thinks back on the film and how he feels about it. He’d been on a run of form with Tug of War and Pipes of Peace, and this was an unexpected set-back. And yet I’d rather watch this that Sgt Pepper, or Purple Rain, or any number of rock farragos or conventional bio-pics. I guess that’s my issue; what else would you want from a Paul McCartney movie other than Paul singing his hits?

  4. The jukebox musical wasn’t invented when the film came out. I wouldn’t hold the lack of plot against the movie. Look what happened when they racked their brains for a plot for Yesterday (2019). Maybe audience interest in the jukebox musical will give this one a second chance.

    • Finally, someone who gets it! We can make juke-box musicals forever, but there’s only one shot at capturing someone’s music. I like Bruce Springsteen’s mellow music, but I’ll never hear it live. So it would make a good movie, and I don’t see anyone better than Bruce Springsteen to play it. I’m tempted to repost my review of Moonwalker to remind us what a real musical farrago looks like….

  5. I’m going to have to agree with pretty much everyone else. Musicians are musicians, not actors. Besides me not being a big music person, so musicals don’t do it for me and never have, I want action and adventure. Most music stars are the swishy, starry eyed little deer. I can’t imagine Ahnold trying to do a musical number in a Terminator movie and I don’t think even his ego would try for that. So why should I allow someone else’s ego, say McCartney, to think he can act?

    And Enya would totally kick McCartney’s butt if they ever did a rock-off, or battle of the bands, or whatever you call it when 2 musicians face off against each other.

    • Sigh…OK, so I like musicals. But when there’s a back catalogue, who better to sing than the original artist? I’d rather hear ABBA sing SOS than Pierce Brosnan. Would be happy to see Enya in an Enya movie, better that than seeing someone else auto tune covers of her song. Actors and singers have integrity in their work, and I like creative people who give it to us straight. So there! Pick that out!

      • I agree, the person who created the song should be the one to sing it. They’ll (usually) do a better job. My exceptions for that is when Sarah Brightman re-sings pop songs. I heard Dust in the Wind for the first time through her and when I went and listened to the original, the band sounded like a bunch of dirt sucking winos compared to her voice.

        Somehow, I don’t see Enya starring in a Terminator film. I’d definitely watch that though!

                • Erm…she’s no Demi Moore in my opinion. But maybe Psychic Grandma has got her claws into me….but obviously Enya plays herself in the film of her life, so Meg isn’t required, right?

                  • Indeed, nobody but Demi Moore is Demi Moore! That statement I will make my stand on.

                    I think Psychic Grandma likes to play us against each other for her own amusement. She’s a real witch sometimes!

                    In all seriousness, I would totally watch a movie biopic about Enya. But considering how private she is even in her music career, I just don’t ever see something like that happening. Plus, the number of people who know who she is seems to be declining. That’ll happen when you only one album every 5-7 years 🙁

                    • I accept that what I think would be a good movie is no-one else’s idea. But I’d be inetersted to know how Enya turned out to be Enya. How about Give My regards to orini=ocho Flow, in whoch Enya drives around Essex searching for a record comapny executive who has stolen the master tapes of her album? I’d watch that. Meg Ryan could play her in a film within a film.

                    • I’ll drop her an email and see what she’s up to. Probably gazing at an etheral lake or through the water curtain of a sunlit waterfall…

  6. I think this is something my mother would probably enjoy. When she was a young teenager she once skipped school to catch a glimpse of the Beatles when they were in Amsterdam (and in an unprecedented event pretty much her entire class except two people skipped school that day😂) But then again, she’s not that big of a fan anymore so there is that. I like some of their songs, but like Fraggle this is not something I’m really interested in. As always though your review was great! 😊

    • Yet another one! One of the reasons that I thought Yesterday the movie worked was that The Beatles have somehow become so ubiquitous that they have almost vanished from our lives. Why do you think that your mum, one of the leading lights of music criticism, doesn’t feel that she’s a fan anymore? Is it such a crime to like older music?

    • So…what is it with people who like The Beatles, like this music, but don’t want to see it in a film? Would you rather see Frankie Howard and an army of robots perform them? Surely there must be a place for capturing a great song in a film?

      • Oh we have plenty of live music dvd’s of bands we like, because that’s what they do best. I love seeing them play. But they are not actors, and having a daft story to pin their songs on doesn’t really do it for me. It’s unnecessary.

        • Fair enough. What I liked here was embracing the artificiality of the musical, going back to the gossamer light vehicles of the 30’s and 40’s, where the plot is just window-dressing and an excuse for musical performance. I know I’m in a minority, but given that these are some of the best loved songs of all time, maybe I’m amazed that no-one else likes this film…

            • So…I don’t like the Elton John biopic. I don’t like Taron Egerton, and think anyone would have been better, even Robert Downey Jr or Justin Timberlake. But the best person to sing these songs is Elton John, and I find all his hand-wringing about addiction and bad decisions quite unedifying. I’d rather have Paul driving around Liverpool looking for his missing tapes than all this ‘woe is me’ about Elton beating himself up about snorting too much coke. Controversial, I know, but that’s how it is…

    • But what would you want to see McCartney do? Defuse a bomb? Dance? I like that he plays to his own strengths, and uses his film to showcase his best work. If you don’t like his music, fair enough, but many do, and this is a good way to enjoy it for fans..

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