Young British band the Beatles are heading off to the United States after a run of success in their native land, but having misgivings about what the reception will be like when they get there as they are driven to the airport to catch the plane across the Atlantic. This leads them to recall how it all started for them back in 1959, and John Lennon (Stephen McKenna), Paul McCartney (Rod Culbertson) and George Harrison (John Altman) were teenagers on the streets of Liverpool, dreaming of making it big in the music industry. They manage to secure an audition with John's best friend Stuart Sutcliffe (David Wilkinson) on bass...
But they don't have a drummer! What to do? This is where an important figure in the movie entered into it, one Pete Best, the man known as the Fifth Beatle (along with all those other people known as the Fifth Beatle), who was the creative consultant on this television movie designed by American TV mogul Dick Clark as a follow-up to his miniseries about Elvis Presley which had starred Kurt Russell to some acclaim. As made news at the time, Best was the sole Beatle to have any involvement for the other Fab Four tried their darnedest to get the production stopped, even considering legal action, though when it finally arrived it was greeted with a shrug anyway.
Birth of the Beatles played on the small screen in America, but in Europe you had to pay to see an extended version in the cinema where it had little impact other than grumbles in Britain about Americans getting their country wrong in its depiction, but actually it wasn't all bad. The cast were game enough, with McKenna especially doing a pretty decent impression of Lennon, but one problem was the script insisted on continually reminding the audience they were watching history in the making, or a recreation of same at any rate, so characters' names were constantly repeated so we would know who was meant to be who, and lyrics from the famous songs dropped into the dialogue (and occasionally the art design).
This made parts of the movie come across as a little silly, as if Clark and his team expected their facsimile of the most famous pop group of all time to generate the same adulation merely by imitation. Another thing they could not have considered with hindsight was that there was another film on the same subject released in the nineties called Backbeat which was better regarded, in spite of the two efforts sharing some very similar scenes: perhaps it was because that was more authentically British that it was more accepted by the fans, casual and otherwise. As it was, with Birth of the Beatles we had to laboriously check every momentous step on the road to success as they played out before our eyes.
It started in the late fifties and ended as the group performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, so in between we had to see them meet Ringo, get Pete to join, go to Hamburg and establish themselves, return to Liverpool and meet Brian Epstein (Brian Jameson), then get a record deal with Nigel Havers, sorry, George Martin (but it's really Nigel Havers) and the rest is history. In the middle we were offered overbearing evidence of the boys' sense of humour (apparently they couldn't get enough of Nazi references when they were in Germany), and heard them play their tunes, actually recorded by group Rain who sounded more like Freddie and the Dreamers in places. That road to the top was presented as a rocky one, with Stu dying halfway through, Lennon having to be married when girlfriend Cynthia (Wendy Morgan) gets pregnant, and Pete Best being sacked: evidence of his feelings about this are demonstrated when there's a near riot as Ringo replaces him, plus the rest of the band are portrayed less than flatteringly in the process. Well, it could have been worse.