TJFF 2024: 'Midas Man' Seeks to Understand the Fifth Beatle

Directed by Joe Stephenson

Starring Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Emily Watson, Eddie Marsan, Jonah Lees, Blake Richardson, Leo Harvey Elledge, Campbell Wallace, Darci Shaw, Ed Speleers, Adam Lawrence, Jay Leno, Eddie Izzard

Photo: Kerry Spicer

BY Rachel HoPublished May 31, 2024


The final shot of Midas Man shows Brian Epstein, who found success and fame as manager of the Beatles from 1961 until his death in 1967, taking a poignant walk across the street. The intertitles explain the circumstances of Epstein's sudden death at only 32 years of age, as well as present a quote from Sir Paul McCartney: "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian."

For as much as has been written about the Fab Four, Epstein occupies an enigmatic space in the Beatles' history, talked about almost in rounded terms as the man who happened to be their manager when Beatlemania took over the world. As a gay man in 1950s and 1960s Britain, Epstein's personal life aroused controversy, compounded by his penchant for gambling and a reliance on alcohol and drugs to cope. The one-time record store owner makes for a colourful film subject.

Starring Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Epstein, Midas Man portrays the music manager as a well-kept, posh young man trying to make his fortune. The film follows Epstein's career, beginning with turning his family's store into a successful music shop straight through to the Beatles finding success in the U.S. and touring the world. Big moments in the Beatles's story are recreated, including replacing Pete Best with Ringo Starr, their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the chaos they caused in Philadelphia and the Philippines, and their appearance on the TV special Our World just months before Epstein's death. Some of these recreations fare better than others, with the production design sometimes looking like a set on a sound stage; others, namely the press conferences and photo shoots, successfully evoke nostalgia.

In comparison to many biopics that need to cram in decades of story into a couple of hours, Midas Man doesn't require as many years, owing to Epstein's passing — although he arguably lived a few lifetimes in that short window of time. As such, the film moves at a fast pace, primarily using fourth-wall breaking exposition and images of the described events to quickly push the movie forward. Although the fourth-wall breaking trope can be a bit tacky, it actually works well in Midas Man, providing a grounded personal touch to explain the extraordinary events happening around Epstein.

The fast pacing, though, does come at the cost of truly diving into a character study of Epstein. However, even with a short runtime, and thanks in large part to Fortune-Lloyd's touching performance, we're able to understand many of Epstein's intricacies. And while Beatle fans will surely debate some of the details included and omitted in the film, one of the more compelling parts of Midas Man is the playful dynamic shown between Epstein and the Beatles, which I constantly wanted to revisit.

For the most part, the performances across the board are enticing — Emily Watson as Epstein's mother, Malka, and Darci Shaw as Cilla Black, another of Epstein's clients, are particularly moving. These actors present strong women who Epstein found comfort, love and safety in, and they bring a great deal of humanity to the surrounding historic moments we know well. Speaking of those historic moments, the decision to cast Jay Leno as Ed Sullivan is odd at best, and completely misguided at worst. While there's an obvious connection between the two men as TV hosts, Leno's presence feels distracting rather than poetic.

Midas Man does poke at some of the vices in Epstein's life, such as gambling and substance abuse, but as is the way with 99.9 percent of biopics, such vices are merely mentions rather than substantial plot points. Instead, the film paints the portrait of a man who put his foot down on the gas the minute he met the Beatles and never let up, ultimately succumbing to the pressure and stress. He's a man who helped change music forever.

The 2024 Toronto Jewish Film Festival takes place from May 30 to June 9 in-person and online. Find details, including information about tickets, at the festival's website.

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