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‘The Hours and Times’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 13, 1992

What really happened between John Lennon and Beatles manager Brian Epstein on that lost weekend in 1963 has died with its participants. What could have happened has fueled the sauciest of speculation.

The fact is, the two escaped to Barcelona after a grueling tour, right on the eve of Beatlemania. Epstein, a dapper, upper-class homosexual, had deep affection for Lennon. As for the working-class, soon-to-be-famous musician, he claimed the relationship remained unconsummated, and his healthy appetite for women was well known. The exact nature of their friendship can never be known.

With "The Hours and Times," California-based filmmaker Christopher Muench has taken this dramatically loaded situation and -- despite immense budgetary constraints -- run elegantly with it. But "Hours," a short and sweet 60 minutes, doesn't resort to the lurid or the giddily romantic. Instead, with Liverpudlian Ian Hart as Lennon and David Angus as Epstein, it composes a relationship between two all-but-polar opposites in a marvelously restrained and touching key.

Hart is fetchingly petulant, with the deadpan nihilistic quippery associated with the late Lennon. But he doesn't exaggerate the mannerisms; he maintains an air of shyness and privacy -- occasionally interrupted with blustery outbursts. As Epstein, the James-Mason-voiced Angus is wonderfully empathetic. A troubled, sensitive man who must contain unrequited passion within the confines of friendship, he makes that pain achingly real.

Their relationship is sometimes jokey and friendly, sometimes flirtatiously confrontational, as Hart struggles with his uncertain attitude.

"I find you remarkable," Hart tells his manager. "But I don't want to have it off with you."

"But you've never ruled it out," says Angus.

The feelings and meanings between words are what matters. When Hart tells wife Cynthia Lennon on the phone, "Just now I'd like to hold you," it hangs there uncertainly. Does he say it for effect, or mean it? Is it a mere pang of loneliness? When a starstruck stewardess invites herself into his hotel room, Hart harangues her with unprintable sexist cruelty. But he's merely nursing the emotional discomfort he is feeling from his situation with Angus.

What matters is not what happens between the men; it's how they feel toward each other. As they dance around and with each other, filmmaker Muench has stated, "their relationship doesn't change, but it becomes more itself."

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