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Midas Man

He discovered them in 1961 in The Cavern, a dingy nightclub in the British port of Liverpool. The four scruffy young men he heard singing that night impressed him, and under his tutelage, they achieved astonishing success. The Beatles, arguably the most successful band in musical history, rose to stardom thanks in no small part to their enterprising, hard driving manager, Brian Epstein.

Their rise from obscurity to fame is the subject of ¬†Joe Stephenson’s arresting feature film, Midas Man, which was screened on May 30 at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. The 112-minute movie, set mostly in Liverpool, gives viewer’s a bird’s eye view of their astounding ascent in just a few short years.

Epstein, a British Jew, was working in his father’s record shop when he stumbled upon the Beatles. He liked their sound. “You were marvellous,” he told them after their performance.

He wanted to manage their careers, but they were already under contract to Allan Williams, who had mixed feelings about them. He thought they were good musicians, but too difficult to handle. Epstein believed he could transform the foursome into a first-rate attraction. The Beatles would be the first and the last band he would ever manage.

Epstein (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) took them to a barber and a men’s shop, polishing up their rough edges. He assured one of the boys, John Lennon, that they would never find a manager who would work as hard for them as he would. He was true to his word. Epstein, a workaholic, was a highly effective manager.

Jacob Fortune-Lloyd portrays Brian Epstein

When Epstein tried to land a recording contract, he was snubbed by the powers-that-be. “We’ll be bigger than Elvis,” he countered, proceeding to prove his claim.

The film fleshes out two other themes.

Epstein was closet gay in an era when open homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain. In several scenes, he is seen meeting total strangers on dark street corners. Toward the close of the film, he meets a New York City actor named Tex (Ed Speleers) who takes callous advantage of their liaison.

Being gay and artistically-inclined, Epstein had a contentious relationship with his father Harry (Eddie Marsan), a hard-nosed businessman who did not appreciate subtleties in life. But he was close to his mother, Malka (Emily Watson), who understood him far better than Harry.

Epstein got on well with the boys — Lennon (Jonah Lees), Paul McCartney (Blake Richardson), George Harrison (Lee Harvey Allege) and Ringo Starr (Campbell Wallace). But early on, he was forced to sack the Beatles’ original drummer, who did not pull his weight.

The Beatles

With the Beatles skyrocketing to celebrityhood, Epstein managed to place them on the extremely popular Ed Sullivan Show. No less than 74 million Americans were glued to their television sets when they appeared on the program that night in 1964.

Epstein’s managerial skills did not go unnoticed by the American media. One New York City newspaper carried the following headline over a story, “The Man with the Midas Touch.”

Ambitious as he was, Epstein had ethics, refusing to book the Beatles before segregated audiences in the American South.

By the mid-1960s, Epstein was exhausted and on drugs and contemplated the possibility of leaving the business. We will never know what his decision might have been, given his untimely death of an accidental overdose on August 27, 1967. He was only 32 when he passed. What a tragedy.