UK theatrical release poster
Directed byIain Softley
Written byIain Softley
Michael Thomas
Stephen Ward
Produced byFinola Dwyer
Stephen Woolley
CinematographyIan Wilson
Edited byMartin Walsh
Music byDon Was
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (United Kingdom)
Senator Film (Germany)
Release date
14 April 1994
Running time
100 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office$5.4 million (US/UK)

Backbeat is a 1994 independent drama film directed by Iain Softley. It chronicles the early days of the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany. The film focuses primarily on the relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff) and John Lennon (Ian Hart), and also with Sutcliffe's German girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee). It has subsequently been made into a stage production.


The film follows the Beatles through their pre-fame Hamburg days when Stuart Sutcliffe, the band's bassist, meets German photographer Astrid Kirchherr.


In addition, brief portrayals of other historical characters in these early days of the Beatles include Paul Duckworth as Ringo Starr, Paul Humpoletz as Bruno Koschmider, Wolf Kahler as Bert Kaempfert and James Doherty as Tony Sheridan.

Hart had already played Lennon in the 1991 film The Hours and Times. Bakewell later reprised his role as McCartney in the 2000 television film The Linda McCartney Story. Williams reprised his role as Best in the 2000 television film In His Life: The John Lennon Story.



The original script was written by Iain Softley based on a series of 1988 interviews. After failing to secure funding, screenwriter Stephen Ward was brought in to completely rewrite the script in 1993. Ward interviewed Astrid Kirchherr and others who were close to the Beatles during their time in Hamburg. The project was green-lit that year.


Main article: Backbeat (soundtrack)

Due to the film's focus on the early days of the band, the soundtrack includes no songs written by members of the Beatles but various songs the group performed in Hamburg, written and recorded by other artists. In this respect, rather than re-create the sounds of the period, iconoclastic, rebellious musicians were recruited (as a producer noted, the Beatles' pre-recording stage act was "the punk of its day") to better convey the way the music was appreciated by audiences of the time. All musicians were members of contemporary American rock bands:

The film's distributor happened to be PolyGram Filmed Entertainment which was then under common ownership with Polydor Records, the label that owned the rights to the Beatles' music from the Hamburg days.


The film premiered on 14 April 1994. It was then given a limited theatrical release.[1] A DVD version was released by Universal in 2005.



Backbeat holds a rating of 68% based on 40 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator site.[2] The site’s consensus states, "Its overly pretentious and melodramatic leanings notwithstanding, Backbeat explores the beginnings of the Fab Four with striking authenticity, soaring rock 'n' roll verve, and a strong admiration for its subjects."[2]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone liked how the film captured the early 60s period through its visual style and use of music.[3] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars; although he thought the "dialogue has real wit", he felt the film is "never able to convince us there's a story there".[4]

The Beatles and others

At the time of the film’s release, Paul McCartney commented:

One of my annoyances about the film Backbeat is that they've actually taken my rock 'n' rollness off me. They give John the song "Long Tall Sally" to sing and he never sang it in his life. But now it's set in cement. It's like the Buddy Holly and Glenn Miller stories. The Buddy Holly Story does not even mention Norman Petty, and The Glenn Miller Story is a sugarcoated version of his life. Now Backbeat has done the same thing to the story of the Beatles. I was quite taken, however, with Stephen Dorff's astonishing performance as Stu.[5]

Astrid Kirchherr praised the accuracy and detail of her relationship with Sutcliffe and the Beatles.[6] The film received further positive responses from Julian Lennon, Pete Best, and Sutcliffe's sister, Pauline, who said, "I still think the director did a fabulous job. It's a good movie. If you like movies, it's a great movie."[7][8][9]

Box office

The film grossed £1,870,001 ($3 million) in the United Kingdom[10] and $2.4 million in the United States and Canada.[11]

Stage adaptions

The film's original writer and director, Iain Softley, turned the screenplay of Backbeat into a theatrical production. It premiered at Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre on 9 February 2010[12] featuring a live band. In 2011 another stage version opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in London.[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Weekend Box Office : Hey, Chevy, the British Are Coming". Los Angeles Times. 19 April 1994. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Backbeat". Rotten Tomatoes.
  3. ^ Travers, Peter (15 April 1995). "Backbeat". Rolling Stone.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (22 April 1994). "Backbeat".
  5. ^ "Beatles Musical "Backbeat" Opening In L.A. Before Broadway Run". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Astrid Kirchherr - Her Bio With Photos of the early Beatles".
  7. ^ "Lennon and Proud of It - Interview with Jody Denberg, 6-16-99". Austin City Limits Radio. Archived from the original on 28 December 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  8. ^ "The Pete Best interview". 12 July 2003. Archived from the original on 28 December 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018 – via San Jose Mercury News.
  9. ^ "Gary James' Interview with Stuart Sutcliffe's Sister Pauline Sutcliffe". Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  10. ^ "Top 10 Rank films in UK 1994". Screen International. 11 April 1997. p. 16.
  11. ^ Backbeat at Box Office Mojo
  12. ^ "Citizens Theatre". 9 February 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  13. ^ "Backbeat - Duke of Yorks Theatre, London - Tickets, information, reviews".