Danny Boyle’s Yesterday benefitted from an irresistible concept—musician who is good at covering the Beatles awakens as the only person who remembers the Beatles—but fizzled out due to an excess of schmaltz and a refusal to ask any of larger questions about how art is intertwined with the era of its creation. Well, it turns out an early draft of the script did just that, though the film’s credited screenwriter, Richard Curtis, didn’t write it.
This week, Uproxx published an interview with Jack Barth, a 62-year old writer who penned the draft upon which Yesterday was based. Called Cover Version, his script was acquired by Working Title Films and adopted by Curtis, the British film legend behind Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually.
“My impression when they first told me ‘Richard Curtis wants to buy your film’ was that he was going to produce it,” Barth tells Uproxx. “Then when we got into the final negotiations, they said, ‘Also, here’s the credit that he’s insisting on having’ where he’d be the sole screenwriter and then I’d get co-‘story by’ credit with him. I thought, well that’s kind of fucked up to pre-arbitrate credits, I don’t think the writers guild would like that. But at the same time, I’d been at this for five years at that point and figured it would be nice to just cash out and finally move on. So I accepted.”
Curtis’ version of the script takes the story in an entirely new direction, but still shares a number of jokes, scenes, and plot points with Barth’s, including a scene in which the protagonist discovers John Lennon is, in this universe, a fisherman in Liverpool. And that’s why it’s kind of shitty that Curtis routinely downplayed Barth’s involvement in interviews surrounding the film, saying he had worked off a “one line plot” and claiming he hadn’t read Barth’s script before starting his own.
What really stands out in the piece, though, is the description of how Barth’s script found the film’s main character achieving only minor success with the Beatles catalog and, per Uproxx, wondering “why his one-of-a kind songbook isn’t bringing him the same fame and fortune it once brought the Beatles, or the fulfillment he’d imagined.” That’s not only more interesting, but it also reckons with larger themes about art’s relationship with time and place, as well as how the vessel of a work of art often matters as much as the art itself.
“I think that the reason that Richard turned him into the most successful songwriter of all time is because that’s how Richard’s life is going,” Barth says while musing on the differences between their scripts. “He met Rowan Atkinson at Oxford, he came out of Oxford and immediately rode Rowan Atkinson to huge success in his early twenties, he’s never been knocked out, as far as I know. Why wouldn’t this guy become the most successful songwriter in the world?”
Read the full interview here.
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