A Hard Day's Night review – a larky and quaint Beatles fantasy

Not quite 20 years after the second world war, and with Winston Churchill technically not yet dead, Dick Lester directed this hugely popular and influential Beatles movie from a script by veteran TV writer Alun Owen.

The film (now on re-release for its 50th anniversary) is a larky and quaint fantasy of the group on tour, bunking off, sprinting around like the Keystone Robbers and cheeking their elders and not-betters in the toffee-nosed south. Wilfrid Brambell plays Paul's glowering Irish grandad, surreally along for the ride.

A Hard Day's Night looks chaotic and slapdash enough (and just occasionally, for me, depressing enough) to count as an experimentalist or underground movie. Film was not a medium in which the Beatles showed any real interest (unlike Sinatra or Elvis), but A Hard Day's Night captures the spirit of the times and the band themselves are so unselfconsciously awful at acting that this has documentary value: a picture of a pinched and starved nation, waking up to this new energy. Undernourished Britons really did buy milk in those difficult-to-open triangular cartons from street-vending machines: Tom Courtenay has one at the end of Billy Liar. (There's also a sharp pre- or proto-Troubles moment when Brambell tells the west London coppers they've got sadism stamped all over their British kissers, and he'll go on hunger strike.)

John's own face – so sharp and humorous and shrewd – is enduringly fascinating, especially compared to Paul's childlike innocence, which remains angelic even as he smokes a fag.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Bradshaw, for The Guardian on Thursday 3rd July 2014 22.00 Europe/London

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