At the heart of Argylle’s soundtrack and score is the just released new, and final, song from The Beatles, “Now and Then.”
In Argylle, Bryce Dallas Howard is Elly Conway, the reclusive author of a series of best-selling espionage novels, whose idea of bliss is a night at home with her computer and her cat, Alfie. But when the plots of Elly’s fictional books – which center on secret agent Argylle and his mission to unravel a global spy syndicate – begin to mirror the covert actions of a real-life spy organization, quiet evenings at home become a thing of the past. Accompanied by Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a cat-allergic spy, Elly (carrying Alfie in her backpack) races across the world to stay one step ahead of the killers as the line between Elly’s fictional world and her real one begins to blur. The cast includes Henry Cavill, John Cena, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Samuel L. Jackson, Ariana DeBose and Dua Lipa.
Music in the films of director Matthew Vaughn is as important and integral as plot, character and design. From the score to the soundtrack, every musical element serves the storytelling, narratively and emotionally. With Argylle, Vaughn was keen to craft a screen romance that fizzed with banter and chemistry. As Elly Conway and Aidan go on the run in the movie, they find themselves slowly drawn together, in spite of all the danger. “It is a love story deep down,” Vaughn says. “It’s a weird one, but it is one.”
And as their relationship deepens, one song in particular becomes increasingly important to them and their story. “We needed a love song that we would play three times, and the meaning would change each time,” Vaughn says. Vaughn tried multiple tracks, but in the end the song he went with is a little piece of music history all by itself. At the time Vaughn heard “Now and Then,” it was unreleased.
Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, had approached Vaughn about using a Beatles track in the film. Vaughn, a devoted Beatlemaniac, had considered it, but there were obstacles that prevented it. “I laughed and told Giles, ‘A) we can’t afford it, B) we can’t afford it and C) we can’t afford it,’” Vaughn says. “And Giles said, ‘How about D)? There’s a new Beatles track that might just work.’”
“Now and Then” is one of multiple songs John Lennon recorded rough demos for back in 1978, but never completed. Years after his death in 1980, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, handed Lennon’s former songwriting partner, Paul McCartney, a tape containing the songs. The tape was marked, “For Paul.” Of the four songs on it, one – “Grow Old with Me” – had already been released. Two of the songs – “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” – were worked on by the surviving Beatles and were included on the landmark release of The Beatles: Anthology in 1995.
The last remaining unreleased song, “Now and Then,” was earmarked for the Beatles treatment too, but work on it had been abandoned. But then, Giles Martin and his production team – using the same state-of-the-art technology that Oscar®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson had used to turn the Get Back sessions into 2021’s The Beatles: Get Back – realized that there was a chance to remove tape hiss and the sound of electrical current from “Now and Then.” And with the involvement of surviving Beatles McCartney and Ringo Starr (and including backing provided by George Harrison when the three started working on the track for possible inclusion in 1995’s Anthology), they could turn it into a fully-fledged band number, anchored by Lennon’s plaintive, emotional vocal.
When Martin played the finished number for Vaughn, the director was blown away. “We put it on the film as a test, and without having to change a single edit it fit everything,” Vaughn says. “It was as if Lennon had watched the movie and written the song for us. It’s got lyrics that encompass the central relationship.”
Vaughn knew that he had to have it for the movie, even going as far as to have the film’s composer, Lorne Balfe, incorporate its melody into his score. “It plays so well with an orchestra,” says Vaughn, who got to meet one of his heroes thanks to the song. “I was incredibly starstruck when I met Paul McCartney to talk about it,” Vaughn says. “And when we were mixing the film, I said, ‘drop out the orchestra and give me Lennon and McCartney,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, I am playing around with two of the greatest songwriters of all time.’ It is a real honor.”