Subtitled George Best: All By Himself, this documentary reconstruction of the life and death of the first superstar footballer drips with sadness.
Director Daniel Gordon doesn’t do much new with the subject of George Best, but he does put the story together with enough skill and over-arching thoughtfulness to make us feel we’re watching a 20th century tragedy.
Best’s incandescent, wispy presence on the field lights up the early parts, his dazzling skills and even more dazzling eyes, the pop of champagne and 60s mini-skirts and cheeky chappy tabloid exploits with girls, girls, girls (wags wagging fingers here include Angie Best, Alex Best and Jackie Glass).
That’s all so much fun and legend, despite the tut-tut of footballers who had to do the heavy lifting around him. The retirement of Matt Busby posits that Besty lost a father figure then and his spiral began. He had it all by 22 and was washed up by 27.
But what’s really interesting is that the only person who doesn’t look sad in all this is Best himself. He is blissfully, boozily content with himself. He may be, as the title suggests, all by himself, but he doesn’t look miserable for a moment.
The film, with all its talking, shaking heads is more than a bit po-faced about this an could have done with some of the perspective, some of the levity and care-free swagger Best himself always felt he had, even when that swagger become a stagger. Instead we get granite-hewn football journo Hugh McIlvaney growling out his disapproval.
So, for whom is this a tragedy and who is the filmed tragedy for? Is it for football fans, to remind Man U devotees of what they lost? It wasn’t like his career was unfulfilled, though. Perhaps he sparkled all to briefly (out, out brief candle) but he never really asked the game for anything it didn’t give him, apart from a World Cup maybe.
I saw him play once, down at Fulham, my Dad took me on a Boxing Day, or maybe an Easter, to see him and Marshy demolish Hereford 4-1, I think. It was a game that happened to be caught on ITV’s the Big Match, so it’s quite a famous even now, though I didn’t know it at the time, when I was six, maybe seven.
I think the grief is that you want to help someone who didn’t want to be helped, that all these people in the film, in the crowds, on his teams, in his beds, gave him their heart – and as audience to this ‘tragedy’, we do too – but he rejects it continually, preferring white wine and vodka and being drunk, telling stories with his maverick mates like Rodney Marsh. Did we enable him? Is alcoholism a disease? Could someone have saved him? – no, not even Pat Jennings, the huge keeper he so famously lobs from 8 yards out in a classic bit of Best footage.
Like the old, possible true, story goes with that hotel bellboy saying Besty, Besty where did it all go wrong? We’re still talking about him now, still making films about the legend, so turns out he must have done something right.