DIR: Daniel Gordon • WRI: Peter Ettedgui • PRO: Trevor Birney, John Battsek, Brendan Byrne • CAST: George Best, Angie Best, Pat Crerand, Mike Summerbee
Angie drives her poorly infant son to the hospital late one evening. On her way there she passes a stumbling drunkard hunched over in the California twilight. His hair is matted and his gait is hampered by his own philanderous self-indulgence. She drives on only to look back in her rearview mirror to see the grizzled face of her husband.
Best is the biographical documentary of one of the most gifted footballing talents the world has ever known. Famously called the ‘best player in the world’ by Pelé, Best was an international icon from the age of 19 when he helped Manchester United win their first league title in eight seasons. His popularity at the height of his powers transcended the realm of sport, forcing comparisons to that of bands like the Rolling Stones, earning him the moniker of ‘El Beatle’.
A collaborative picture between ESPN, BBC and Northern Ireland Screen, director Daniel Gordon’s (Hillsborough) latest soccer-doc chronicles the meteoric rise of Belfast’s most celebrated son, right up until his untimely death at the hands of the crippling alcoholism that consumed him from his time as Matt Busby’s latest wünderkind. George’s journey to the lofty heights of Old Trafford began as a skinny and introverted fifteen year old playing in the Northern Ireland schoolboy leagues. In the space of four short years his on-field genius and effortless off-field magnetism propelled soccer from the back to the front pages of every tabloid in Britain. It was there that George would stay, but as his career eventually waned, it would be more for the wrong reasons than the right ones. Gordon constructs George’s tragic story in a harrowing and immersive fashion by crocheting the vast array of existing media coverage with interviews of those closest to throughout his troubled life, chief of which is his first wife Angie. Each segment of the film is punctuated with various chilling sound-bytes illustrating how aware George was of his demons and just how powerless he was to control them.
As the film progresses, the message appears to be clear; despite everyone’s best efforts no one could get through to George. Despite his obvious abundance of talent and charm, he remained perennially self-segregated. He eluded defenders with the same ease that left him out of reach of lovers, team-mates and coaches alike. His legacy it seemed, was doomed to be a patchwork of breathtaking highlights and horrifying low-lights like the month-long benders that plagued his adult life. The drinking binges that marred his illustrious career, would ultimately force him out of favour at Manchester United and the multitude of American National league teams that followed. In one of the final aforementioned sound bytes, George states that he hopes he is remembered for his prowess with a ball, and that people can forget his failings and remember him for the footballing genius that won the European Cup at twenty two years of age.
Sadly, as this documentary illustrates, George’s wish was to be an unfulfilled one, as equally unfulfilled as the hopes carried by his legions of fans across the footballing world. Best will naturally pique the interest of all sports enthusiasts for its highlights alone, but the film it feels, is intended to be read as a cautionary tale of the trappings of fame, fortune and addiction. Though it lacked any major surprises, ultimately, Gordon does the double European footballer of the year more than justice, and the film should serve as a pedagogic tool for generations of gifted athletes from heretofore.
12A See IFCO for details
Best (George Best: All By Himself) is released 24th February 2017
Best (George Best: All By Himself) – Official Website
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