On 1970's "Mother," John Lennon sang, "You had me, but I never had you." Fine artist-turned-filmmaker Sam Taylor-Wood delves into the story behind those words, starting with a 15-year-old Lennon (Kick-Ass
's Aaron Johnson, a star in the making), who lives in Liverpool with his impish uncle George (David Threlfall) and imperious aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, all pin curls and British reserve). George's death spurs Lennon to seek out Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), his birth mother, who turns out to be surprisingly fun and flirtatious (their scenes together carry a subtle sexual tension). The mother of two daughters, Julia welcomes the opportunity to reconnect with her son, even if her common-law husband (David Morrissey, Duff's Is Anybody There?
costar) doesn't share her enthusiasm. She introduces John to rock and roll and teaches him how to play the banjo--useful information when he switches to the guitar--but she also suffers from mood swings and can't always meet his emotional needs. Torn between the mother who raised him and the one who gave him life, John funnels his frustrations into music, forming the Quarrymen, but then he meets Paul McCartney (Bright Star
's Thomas Sangster) and revamps the lineup to work in George Harrison and his art school colleague Stu Sutcliffe (whose biography formed the basis for Backbeat
). As Lennon aficionados know, John's relationship with Julia didn't come to a happy end, but she would have a profound effect on his life--and provide the inspiration for this tenderhearted tribute. --Kathleen C. Fennessy