This will either be very good news, or very bad news: Michael Hirst, creator of The Tudors, is planning work on a show based on The Beatles’ career. The show is planned to be an eight-episode miniseries. Honestly, I personally have some misgivings. Part of it’s because I’ve never forgiven Michael Hirst for casting Joss Stone, of all people, as “The Flanders Mare” or because of the fact that Jonathan Rhys-Davies couldn’t be bothered to invest in a fat suit to play one of the most famously obese monarchs in history. But these are all minor points compared to a problem that’s affected many of the Beatle biopics that have been made: licensing.
You might remember that there have been a few films made about the Beatles: The Birth of the Beatles, Backbeat, Nowhere Boy, and In His Life: The John Lennon Story. This is, of course, not counting the films the Beatles themselves made, the 2000 film Two of Us, about John and Paul’s last meeting in 1976, or the many, MANY films made about John Lennon’s life. Notice the common thread in those four films: they all focused on the early years of the Beatles, eras where there were still quite a few covers in their repertoire. Only Birth of the Beatles actually used Lennon/McCartney-composed songs. Here’s the thing: The Beatles are very, VERY particular about the films they allow to use their music, and, when they do, it will be expensive. Case in point: the makers of Mad Men tried for four seasons to allow the Beatles to license one of their songs for the show. Eventually, by season five, they allowed “Tomorrow Never Knows” to appear in the episode “Lady Lazarus,” for about a minute. The cost of that minute’s worth of music? $250,000. As a result, it’s not very common to hear Beatles songs in films anymore, especially in their original recordings.
As you might have guessed, this does not bode well for this proposed miniseries. Granted, The Beatles are the most successful band of all time, and, odds are, at any given moment, you can listen to their entire back catalogue and quite a few recordings they refuse to release on Youtube, so, if they just chose to not show the Beatles making music, it wouldn’t be as bad a case of “telling and not showing” as a story about a fake band would be, but it would likely be a disappointment to the fans, and many neophytes might be confused about why everyone loves them so much. Of course, they could just include the music, budget be damned. And, given that a project called The Fifth Beatle, a biopic of their manager Brian Epstein, has finally been allowed to use the Beatles’ music, that may actually be a possibility.