Best

Review by Cian Traynor

Directed by

Daniel Gordon

Starring

George Best Mike Summerbee Paddy Crerand

Anticipation.

This story has been told before.

Enjoyment.

A substantial if uneven account of an icon’s downfall.

In Retrospect.

A harrowing insight into the nature of celebrity.

The Northern Irish footballing icon gets the imbalanced, occasionally brilliant documentary he deserves.

Weeks before his death in 2005, George Best insisted that people remember him for his football skills and “forget all the rubbish” that made him infamous. A new documentary about his life makes that seem unlikely.

Best opens with ex-wife Angie recalling the time she mistook her husband for a tramp, setting up the story of a prodigious talent prone to self-sabotage. But the foreshadowing proves unnecessary. Even during Best’s ascent at Manchester United in the 1960s – becoming football’s first pop star at 19 – reporters keep asking if all the attention and pressure will become unbearable. As it inevitably does, the film maps out that downward spiral effectively.

A procession of talking heads – former lovers, agents and teammates – portray him as an enigmatic figure addicted to women and alcohol, while Best’s own voice, pulled from previous interviews, sounds remarkably candid and self-aware. But as much as the material feels carefully curated, there are gaps.

Callum Best, the Northern Irishman’s only son, as well as Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton, his teammates at Manchester United, are missing. The fact that Best’s scattershot career took him to clubs in England, Scotland, Ireland, the US, South Africa, Australia and Hong Kong – sometimes playing just one game – isn’t clearly communicated.

At one point the film jumps forward to his death from multiple organ failure over 20 years later, aged 59, before working backwards with passing mentions of domestic violence and a prison sentence for drink driving. If that uneven structure is intended to lighten the load, it doesn’t succeed. No matter where you place the parts, Best’s path to self-destruction feels wearing.

It leaves you wondering not only what might have been, but how Best could have believed that football would be the only thing people remember him for.

Published 21 Feb 2017

Tags: George Best

Anticipation.

This story has been told before.

Enjoyment.

A substantial if uneven account of an icon’s downfall.

In Retrospect.

A harrowing insight into the nature of celebrity.

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