Based primarily on interviews with Stuart's mother and sister and with Astrid Kirchherr, it's been often criticised as a 'crude caricature', for its factual inaccuracies about the Beatles' time in Hamburg, about the musical performances portrayed, for the one-dimensional portrayal of the "minor" characters, including Paul, George, Pete and John's girlfriend Cynthia, and even for the fact that the actors aren't exact doppelgangers for the characters they portray (they're pretty good likenesses, though).
I can accept all these criticisms, but somewhat to my surprise they didn't spoil the film at all for me. If you want detailed accuracy about the Beatles, this is not for you. Read the books. But if you want to see a film which tells a good story well, and which will give you a real feel for the vibes of the time and for the characters it claims to portray, and an insight into one important aspect of the early history of the Beatles, I think you will enjoy this. I thought I wouldn't, but I did. And I will watch it again. And, did I say? it's about the Beatles.
This is not a biopic, nor does it pretend to be, but it does claim to tell the story of Stu and Astrid, and I thought it did that very well. I don't object at all to the use of some artistic licence, such as Astrid's excellent English. Contrary to some other reviewers, I found the portrayal of the quiet, enigmatic Stu by Stephen Dorff quite excellent, a perfect foil to the bitter, sometimes thoughtful, and wholly charismatic John Lennon, portrayed just as well by Ian Hart.
I first heard the Beatles just before their first British record "Love Me Do" became a minor hit in Autumn 1962. This film portrays events mostly more than a year before then, and even longer before their last stint in Hamburg, at the Star-Club in December 1962, the subject of a famous amateur recording. Apart from the Polydor recordings by Bert Kampfaert, we have little to judge objectively what the band sounded like in 1960-61, but judging from the 1962 live recordings, and the comments of those who heard them before they were famous, I'm quite prepared to believe the Beatles sounded then very much like the band used for the soundtrack to this film. OK, the band aren't the Beatles, and some of the details are a bit askew, but the rock-and-roll standards portrayed were all part of the Beatles' act, and are performed much as they performed them. Everyone tells how Stu Sutcliffe often played turning away from the audience, as often seen in the film. It's hardly a realistic portrayal of the Hamburg clubs on the Reeperbahn in the early 1960s, but I've seen worse, and if you have little idea what life was like for the band before 1962, this will not be a bad introduction.
Comparisons with "A Hard Day's Night" are ingenuous: that was a film made by the Beatles early in 1964 after they were famous (in Britain at least); this is a film about the band when they were teenagers, before pretty much anyone knew them outside Liverpool and Hamburg. Not the same at all. And of course, they didn't sound back then like the Beatles' later recordings, or even like they did on their tours of the US and elsewhere. Perhaps the only recording you can really compare is their first album "Please Please Me" (and the live Star-Club recording, if you have it).
It's a film, for goodness' sake. I enjoyed it as one, and I hope you do too. The characters rang true, especially Ian Hart as John Lennon, and the story is well worth telling, and well worth watching. And, did I say? it's about the Beatles.