It’s easy to see how CBS was drawn to “The Linda McCartney Story” which, at first blush seems to offer all things to all demos. First, of course, there are the boomer Beatles fans, always interested in another backstage peek at their favorite foursome. Then there’s the audience for love stories, primarily women, who’ll tune in to see the tale of two people who saw each other through thick and thin, barely spending a night apart over their 30-year relationship. And then there are those, probably older, looking for the sentimental weeper about a tragically premature death. All these auds will find something to watch in “The Linda McCartney Story,” but not necessarily at the same time. As the pic moves from the Manhattan and London nightclubs of the ’60s to a rural farm in Scotland to the antiseptic rooms of doctors’ offices, CBS might find it tough to keep the disparate demos away from the remote.Film begins with a brief scene at the 1995 opening of Linda’s exhibit of rock ‘n’ roll photographs, then flashes back to how she got her start, emphasizing that Linda Eastman had a successful photography career before she even met Paul McCartney.
While working for a small-time magazine, she tags along to a press conference with the Rolling Stones, where she flirts — and maybe more — with Mick Jagger, then sells her photos for the first time. Soon, she’s hanging out at Manhattan clubs in the heyday of the rock scene, befriending the musicians, clicking her camera shutter every step of the way, flirting — and definitely more — with Jim Morrison.
Father Lee Eastman (George Segal) doesn’t approve of his daughter hanging with the “long hairs,” but the undaunted Linda heads off to London with the assignment of photographing the Fab Four. At a club there, she makes eye contact with Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell), who promptly invites her into his limo with his gaggle of friends.
First act of this telepic is particularly well shot. Director Armand Mastroianni and cinematographer David Burr keep the camera moving as a means of conveying the bohemian hubbub of the mid-’60s, and editor Terry Blythe makes the crowd scenes unusually believable. The fact that the famous folk are often mugging for Linda’s camera helps give the performances a touch of flair — Matthew Harrison as Jagger and Aaron Grain as Morrison both convey their subjects’ sexiness. The musical medley of rock classics in the background is aptly libidinal.As Linda, Elizabeth Mitchell is especially strong in the early going, and the telepic manages a nice balancing act. Linda sleeps with rock stars, falls immediately in love with Paul and takes an active role in pursuing one of the most famous men in the world, yet she always comes off as totally genuine. So many telepics take their primary subject and put them into a passive role — more acted upon than acting. The first half of “The Linda McCartney Story” avoids this trap, and the film moves along at a rapid pace, interweaving the couple’s early years together and the later times when Linda discovers her cancer.
But in the second hour, illness makes the protagonist passive, and while Mitchell does her best to show Linda’s stern-faced determination, her options are limited. More problematical, Christine Berardo’s script turns self-conscious , speaking to the criticism Linda had to deal with for being a full partner in Paul’s life, and in so doing, being one of the catalysts in the Beatles’ breakup.But the pic climbs further into passivity in trying to set the record straight — it’s Paul who wants to get married (Linda already had a marriage that fell apart, although we learn nothing about it), and it’s Paul who insists Linda join the band “Wings.”
Linda moves to the sidelines of the story as the Beatles break up and Paul — at the urging of Linda’s father — decides to sue for his independence from Apple. Berardo tries to throw in some of Linda’s later activism to bring her back to the narrative center, but choosing between parsley and basil in a vegetarian recipe is not very compelling compared with watching John Lennon — who comes off quite badly — throw rocks through a window after Paul wins the lawsuit.Mitchell and Bakewell — who also played McCartney in the film “Backbeat” — capture enough chemistry to make the overall romance work. This is a couple that never spent a night apart until Paul got arrested for carrying marijuana into Japan. (There’s a lot of pot-smoking in this film, but the drug itself is never mentioned by name — an interesting network compromise.)
Linda’s battle with cancer is moving, but in only the most typical telepic manner. Berardo, basing her script on Danny Fields’ bio, never finds a way to give this aspect of the storyline an effective character arc. Scene after scene has Linda fighting every step of the way, but then, suddenly, she’s looking peacefully prepared for death.Ultimately, the real point of the story does come through: Whatever fanciful notions people had about Linda’s effect on Paul, the McCartneys were deeply committed to each other’s lives every step of the way.