Peter Webb’s “Give My Regards to Broad Street” (1984) was seen as a major misstep and commercial setback for its star, writer and producer, Paul McCartney.
In fact, nearly every biography on the former Beatle cites the film as a blunder and describes it as though it were “Cats.” While McCartney’s film may not have given fans and film lovers what they expected (and, to be sure, the film comes up short in several ways), it doesn’t deserve its long-held reputation as a disaster.
Webb directed the film on a $6.8 million budget, though would later state that the result was less a motion picture suitable for theaters than “Paul McCartney’s home movie.”
McCartney plays himself, a musician whose master recording tapes of a new album have gone missing. A revolving door of characters enter and exit the film, aiding McCartney in his search for what must have been a whopper of a good album.
Along the way, musical numbers break out and they are always a welcome touch, as there’s no suspense or character development.
The title is taken from the Broad Street train station in the city of London – it closed in 1984, to make for Broadgate office development. Or, one could get on the film’s bandwagon of naysayers and declare that even the location of the title failed to withstand the film’s release.
Taking it at face value, the film is too laid back, self-satisfied and, despite the intrigue of the stolen tape, flimsy in its plotting. That makes it less than “A Hard Days Night” and “Yellow Submarine” but really, the easy-going nature of the project isn’t a deal killer and shouldn’t be for McCartney’s fans.
Yes, this is among the most lightweight mysteries I can think of and the plot should have been developed before the start of filming. However, it’s also never pretentious or heavy handed.
What we know: McCartney had planned to make the film for years.
FAST FACT: “Give My Regards to Broad Street” earned an anemic $1.3 million at the global box office.
It was originally planned as an anti-war film based on McCartney’s “Tug of War” and written by Tom Stoppard (!). Eventually, the anti-war theme was dropped for the faux doc angle.
McCartney wrote a 22-page screenplay (since one page equals a minute of screen time, McCartney’s initial draft hardly suggests a fully developed film, let alone a substantial running time). Weber claims that McCartney didn’t want to make a movie but a one-hour TV special and that, in essence. there was no script.
The soundtrack, unlike the film, was a blockbuster, with the hit (and still wonderful) “No More Lonely Nights” allegedly written by McCartney over a weekend (“Ballroom Dancing” and “Wanderlust” are also on the soundtrack but were recently published songs).
I’m not entirely clear on the ending – was the whole thing a dream? Maybe so, perhaps an indication of how overly laid back the whole thing is.
— LandOfThe80s (@landofthe80s) October 22, 2023
There are some curious touches, like the elaborate dance scene where a massive brawl breaks out – look for the Michael Jackson lookalike mime (a reference to the “Say Say Say” music video?) who steals one number.
McCartney’s puppy-dog good looks and what-me-worry performance are an innocuous put-on. Rarely has such a genius, let alone the star of a movie, appeared so carefree.
Yet, as much as this doesn’t connect, the music is terrific. Watching McCarthy and Ringo Starr in the recording studio together is always a treat. So is seeing early work from Bryan Brown and Tracey Ullman, who make strong impressions, but little comes of their characters.
In his final film role, the great Sir Ralph Richardson appears as a landlord… feeding his pet monkey.
When it’s just performance footage, “Give My Regards to Broad Street” delivers for McCartney’s fans. I love “No More Lonely Nights” (and even the dance remix that plays over the end credits), but the terrific MTV video that accompanied the film’s release served it better than the actual movie.
On the other hand, the famous sketch puppet TV series, “Spitting Image” featured a waiter delivering a film can to McCartney’s table and stating, “Your turkey, sir.”
Had the plot been given as much attention as the music, this could have been truly special. Considering it’s a race-against-time mystery, there’s no suspense and the wrap up is lazy. If the intent was to make a “one-man Hard Day’s Night,” then it comes up short.
Still, when the songs take center stage, it works.
Oddly enough, the scenes where McCartney is, for some reason, in a Jack the Ripper period piece are the most promising – McCartney looks right for the part.
Books on McCartney describe the film as “unwatchable” and “excremental.” One critic in Florida deemed the film “safer than sleeping pills and cheaper than a lobotomy.”
First of all, even as a vanity project, “Give My Regards to Broad Street” is entertaining and certainly has appeal for McCartney’s fans. Also, if we’re going to compare it to other pop musicals of that era that failed, Webb’s film is worlds better than “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Can’t Stop the Music,” “Xanadu,” “Grease 2,” and “The Apple,” all of which range from an embarrassing folly to truly embarrassing.
An element of the film that most agreed on at the time (aside from the success of the soundtrack album) is the inclusion of the “Rupert Bear and the Frog Song” cartoon, the Paul and Linda project that can be traced back to ’68 and The Beatles’ dream to create art for children.
— Henry Söderlund (@henrysoderlund) September 28, 2019
Yes, it’s self-indulgent, too silly to take seriously as a thriller and doesn’t have enough narrative structure to fully pull us into its paper-thin story.
As a reflection of the then-new MTV era, it’s a fine music video, albeit one with story angles and cool moments that fade away in a dreamlike haze. “Give My Regards to Broad Street” is too loose and precious to defend as a great movie, but even a trifle like this has its entertainment value.
McCartney didn’t find an ideal vehicle here, but he came close.