This unpretentious account of the Beatles during their first gig, in Hamburg in 1960before painter Stuart Sutcliffe (likably played by Stephen Dorff) left the group, and before Ringo Starr joined ithas been heralded as the best rockudrama since The Buddy Holly Story. It’s a distinction that it probably deserves, though the movie lacks the sensitivity and precision of Christopher Munch’s hour-long The Hours and Times (1991), which effectively cast Ian Hart in the role of John Lennon (a role he plays here as well). English director and cowriter Iain Softley seems to have little on his mind apart from filling in a bit of the Beatles’ prehistory, which includes the romance between Sutcliffe and art photographer Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), who more or less invented the Beatle haircut and indirectly inspired the avant-garde aspirations of the group in several other respects. There’s nothing very profound here, but we do at least get a nice handling of period and milieu, and pretty good performances of the songs. With Gary Bakewell, Chris O’Neill, and Scot Williams; cowritten by Michael Thomas and Stephen Ward. (JR)

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