The original script was written by Iain Softley from interviews in 1988. After failing to secure funding, screenwriter Stephen Ward was brought in to completely rewrite the script in 1993. Ward interviewed Astrid Kirchherr and others who were close to the Beatles during their time in Hamburg. The project was green-lighted that year.
The soundtrack to the film includes no songs written by members of the Beatles, but various songs the group performed in Hamburg, written and recorded by other artists.
Rather than re-create the sounds of the period, iconoclastic, rebellious musicians were recruited (as a producer noted, the Beatles' pre-recording stage act was "the punk of its day"). This was done to better convey the way the music came across to the audience, at the time. The musicians were all members of American rock bands:Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum): vocals (Paul McCartney)
Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs): vocals (John Lennon)
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth): guitar
Don Fleming (Gumball): guitar
Mike Mills (R.E.M.): bass guitar
Dave Grohl (Nirvana): drums
Henry Rollins (Black Flag): vocals on "Love Me Tender"
The original recording of "My Bonnie," performed by Tony Sheridan with the Beatles as a backing group was used in the film, the only use of a real Beatles performance.
Additionally, the film's distributor, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, was then under common ownership with the label which owned the rights to release and distribute the Beatles' music from the Hamburg days, Polydor Records.
Hart also played Lennon in the film The Hours and Times. Bakewell later reprised his role as McCartney in the television film The Linda McCartney Story, and Williams again played Best in the television film In His Life: The John Lennon Story.
Paul McCartney was not impressed with the film, stating:
One of my annoyances about the film Backbeat is that they've actually taken my rock 'n' rollness off me. They give John the song "Long Tall Sally" to sing and he never sang it in his life. But now it's set in cement. ['Paul' sang Long Tall Sally in the Glasgow stage version]. It's like the Buddy Holly and Glenn Miller stories. The Buddy Holly Story does not even mention Norman Petty, and The Glenn Miller Story is a sugarcoated version of his life. Now Backbeat has done the same thing to the story of the Beatles. I was quite taken, however, with Stephen Dorff's astonishing performance as Stu.
George Harrison was so disappointed with the film that he reportedly walked out of the theater within five minutes of the movie beginning.
Cynthia Lennon was unimpressed with Jennifer Ehle's portrayal of her, saying that in the film she was portrayed "as a clingy, dim little girl in a headscarf."
Astrid Kirchherr praised the accuracy and detail of her relationship with Sutcliffe and the Beatles.
The film did well on limited release.
Re-imagined for the stage by the original writer and director of the 1994 film, Iain Softley, Backbeat premiered at Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre on 9 February 2010 featuring a live band.Cast
In 2011 the stage version opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. It was co-written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys, with musical direction by Paul Stacey, and directed by David Leveaux.