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‘Nothing off limits’: Sam Mendes to direct four Beatles films – one about each member

<span>Fab Four … Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon.</span><span>Photograph: AP</span>
Fab Four … Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon.Photograph: AP

Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of two of the most successful ever James Bond films, is to tackle another multimillion pound British cultural institution: the Beatles.

The director has announced that he will make four separate fiction films, one for each member of the band. The project has the blessing of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and of the families of John Lennon and George Harrison. It marks the first time they, and rights holders Apple, have granted full life story and music rights for a scripted film.

Mendes explained that the four films will all be released in 2027 and tell interconnected stories, one from each band member’s point of view. The “dating cadence” of the films, explained a press release, “will be innovative and groundbreaking”.

“I’m honoured to be telling the story of the greatest rock band of all time,” he said, “and excited to challenge the notion of what constitutes a trip to the movies.”

No writers or cast have yet been announced.

Mendes’ producer Pippa Harris explained that the director had the idea more than a year ago, “and it’s a testament to his creative brilliance and powers of persuasion that Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Sean Lennon and Olivia Harrison responded with such warmth and enthusiasm as soon as he spoke with them”.

She told Deadline: “What is truly exciting is for Sam to have the freedom to delve into the lives of each of the Beatles, with nothing off limits and no sense of the band wanting him to tell a particular ‘authorised’ version of their rise to success.”

Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Tom Rothman, added: “Theatrical movie events today must be culturally seismic. Sam’s daring, large-scale idea is that and then some. Pairing his premiere film-making team, with the music and the stories of four young men who changed the world, will rock audiences all over the globe. We are deeply grateful to all parties and look forward ourselves to breaking some rules with Sam’s uniquely artistic vision.”

The Beatles formed in 1960 and changed the course of musical history before breaking up in 1970. As well as their numerous albums and hit singles, they made five features to tie in with seismic albums, beginning with A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 and ending with Let It Be (1970), all of which were well received, aside from 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour.

Dozens of documentaries have been made about the band, including Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016) and Get Back, Peter Jackson’s acclaimed three-part eight-hour movie from 2021.

Related: The Beatles: Now and Then review – ‘final’ song is a poignant act of closure

About 18 biopics of the band have also appeared on the big and small screen, of which the most acclaimed are 1994’s Backbeat – which focuses on sometime guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe – and 2009’s Nowhere Boy, about the adolescence of John Lennon.

Last year saw the release of Now and Then, purportedly the final track featuring all four key Beatles, which involved McCartney, Harrison and Starr accompanying and adapting an audio track laid down by John Lennon before his murder in 1980.

Mendes was born in 1965, when Help! was topping the charts in the UK and US. His most recent film, Empire of Light, was an autobiographical drama set in the early 1980s and whose soundtrack – and plot – featured a considerable amount of contemporary two-tone.

His debut film, American Beauty, won five Oscars in 2000, including best picture, director and leading actor (for Kevin Spacey). His two James Bond films, Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015), remain the highest grossing in the franchise, while the former is widely regarded as the most critically acclaimed.

His single-shot war film, 1917, went into the 2020 Oscars with 10 nominations, winning three awards, but losing out on the key gongs to Parasite.

Mendes’ stage career includes high-profile revivals of classic musicals including Cabaret (1993) Oliver! (1994) Company (1995) and Gypsy (2003). In 2013, he directed the original West End staging of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical; his latest production, Jez Butterworth’s new play The Hills of California, recently opened in London.