Movie Review: “The Hours and Times,” restored and re-issued alternate history of Lennon and Epstein

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Long long ago, before he became a Harry Potter character or was immortalized on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” before his reliable-Liverpool character actor years in films and TV shows and films from “Finding Neverland” to “Robinson Crusoe” to “The Last Kingdom” and “Mary Queen of Scots,” Ian Hart made his mark in film because of his appearance.

He looked a lot like his fellow Liverpudlian, John Lennon. Filmmakers picked up on that and cast him as the iconic Beatle in movies such as “Backbeat” (1994) and most recently, as an aged non-pop star Lennon in “Snodgrass.”

The film that started all that and put Hart on the cinematic radar was a short speculative history feature, something of a landmark in “Queer Cinema,” 1991’s “The Hours and Times.”

Now, this slight, black and white character study, set in Barcelona and built on the notion that the ever-curious/always rebellious Lennon had a fling with Beatles manager Brian Epstein, has been restored for re-release.

It’s interesting historically — depictions of sexuality have progressed far beyond its tentative, 1991 flirting and “tub scene” — and in its spot-on depiction of the John Lennon in 1963, before the British Invasion of America, just as overwhelming fame were about to swallow him, his bandmates and eventually his marriage, culminating in his 1980 murder in New York.

Hart’s 1963 Lennon is cocky and insolent, keenly aware of the class differences a working class Liverpudlian would feel in the presence of a gay sophisticate and worldly Londoner like Epstein, given a buttoned-down and guarded guise by David Angus.

It’s obvious from the moment we meet them, on the flight to Spain. Epstein sips brandy, the disheveled mop-top seated next to him wakes up chewing gum, wanting another cigarette and another Scotch and Coke.

Extra attention from the flight attendant (Stephanie Pack) has already become an entitlement to Lennon.

“She’s just a bird.”

The two touch on “What do you want people to say about you when you’re gone?” Lennon asks the questions, rarely giving away his own ambitions.

Epstein? He wants the world to know that he did his utmost to do right by The Beatles, and “That I came to know myself.”

As they lounge about the Barcelona Ritz, seeking “rest” for Lennon — away from the wife and new baby — and “nothing else,” we know the “nothing else” will turn to what Brian Epstein knows about himself and what the curious Lennon will learn.

“Dr. B. Epstein, Faith Healer and Proctologist,” he jokes, suggestively.

He wants to go to a gay bar, where they pick up another posh (Robin MacDonald), whom Lennon insults into leaving after they get back to the hotel.

Jealous? Losing his nerve over getting a taste of Epstein’s sexuality, which Lennon is constantly asking about?

There’s a tentativeness to “The Hours and Times” that seems as quaint as Epstein’s attraction to the very young and pretty porter (Sergio Moreno) who speaks just enough English to know what the manager of the world’s soon-to-be-most-famous band has on his mind.

Hart’s best moments come in his scene with the smarter-and-more-confident than she looks stewardess, who ends up in his room. His brittle insults, hinting at the guilt he’s carrying over marrying and fathering a child just as fame makes him irresistible to legions, also carry a little “might not be my type” in them.

Epstein is getting the same treatment, moments in the tub aside.

As history that probably never was, “Hours and Times” is more of an artifact of two long-gone ages, the era of its release and the “ancient history” of its setting, when The Beatles weren’t THE BEATLES and homosexuality was illegal in Britain (until 1967).

The slight film is not scholarship, any more than say “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” is, falling as it does into that posthumous “Let’s claim this or that public figure for ‘our team'” category of gossip.

But Hart’s portrayal of the young Lennon, cocky before the confidence that universal adoration gave swept over him, remains definitive and makes one want to revisit “Backbeat” (where I first interviewed him) and get the fuller picture, Young John as Interpreted by Ian, in living color. Or “colour.”

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: Unrated, with nudity, profanity, alcohol and cigarettes

Cast: Ian Hart, David Angus, Stephanie Pack, Robin MacDonald and Sergio Moreno

Credits: Written and directed by Christopher Munch. An Oscilloscope Labs release.

Running time: :58

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