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it's hard to come away from the Yesterday experience not smiling

★★★★ - STUFF

Rock This Road, DinosaurThe Summer Song. Jack Malik's (Himesh Patel) music career hasn't exactly been hit-filled. 

For 10 years, the struggling Suffolk singer-songwriter has been "profoundly unsuccessful", playing in deserted town centres, windswept boardwalks and barely partronised pubs. Now, he believes he's reached the end of the "long and winding road" and it's time to go back to teaching full-time.

"If it hasn't happened by now I'll need a miracle," Jack whines to his long-suffering manager/roadie/driver Ellie (Lily James). "The world is full of miracles," she assures him, "like Benedict Cumberbatch becoming a sex symbol."

 Cue a strange global power outage which rather unfortunately results in a bus colliding with a cycling Jack. Waking up in the hospital the next morning, he finds he's missing his beard and two front teeth. Then, as he begins his recuperation, he discovers a few others things suddenly seem to be absent – Coca-Cola, Oasis and The Beatles.

Attempting to remember as many of the Fab Four's chords, melodies and lyrics as he can, Jack realises this may just be the big break he's longed for. He's got a whole lot of songs seemingly no-one else on Earth has ever heard before.

It's no surprise that such a whimsical "what if?" premise is brought to us by the combined minds behind Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle) and Love Actually (Richard Curtis). With additional input from the man who gave the world Planet of the Apes: The Musical (Simpsons' scribe Jack Barth), the pair make full use of the premise's potential, inventing new lyrics, rejecting titles ("The White Album has diversity issues," one exec intones) and making cinemagoers fall in love with a generation of classic tunes all over again. There's also a pilgrimage that will likely leave many teary eyed.

However, Yesterday isn't without its faults. In trying to be both a love letter to The Beatles and a contemporary romcom, it sometimes stutters while shifting gears. The alternate reality's randomness will cause some frustration, while you can see the seams in Curtis' influence. There's the "star"-crossed lovers and oddball best-mate from Notting HillAbout Time's hints of sci-fi and Four Weddings' seemingly unrequited romance. Naturally, there's also a big declaration of affection.

But for all its predictability and a couple of one-dimensional characters (Kate McKinnon's manager a prime cardboard caricature example), it's hard to come away from the Yesterday experience not smiling. That's thanks largely to charisma of the leads. Downton (Abbey) girl James is a winsome yet feisty delight, while former EastEnder and soon to be Kiwi Luminarie Himesh Patel is a revelation as the unlikely singing star.

Brilliant bit casting also sees Kumars couple Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar play Malik's parents, while an extended Ed Sheeran (a self-proclaimed Salieri to Malik's Mozart) cameo almost wipes away the memory of his painful Game of Thrones turn – almost.

In the end, Yesterday does what it sets out to do, prove that a world without The Beatles would be infinitely worse.


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