George Best: All By Himself.
Directed by Daniel Gordon. 90 mins.
I don't know what we owe this latest telling of the George Best story to – it can't have been prompted by a desire to piggyback on him being mentioned in Trainspotting 2, can it? - but it's a story I'm not sure needs rehashing. The footballing rise and playboy fall of George Best is the archetypal wasted talent story and Best glided along it trajectory as perfectly as he glided over a football pitch. Anyone can throw away a talent, but nobody could throw it quite as far and quite as elegantly as Georgie Best Superstar (Looks like a woman/ And he wears a bra.)
Shy and skinny, he turns up on the boat from Belfast at Old Trafford and soon establishes himself as the pristine football talent, so fast and agile he can thrive in an age of cloggers and clumpers when they were still using for a football a pig's bladder that had all the delicacy of a shopping bag full of nuts and spanners. He was a superstar by the time he was twenty, won Man Utd the European Cup two years later but got so overwhelmed by the booze and the birds and the hangers-on that he was effectively a spent force by the time he was 25. He spent his later years forlornly traversing the football wildernesses – America, Scotland, Fulham – in search of one more comeback.
It is The Story but it's all a bit too neat isn't it? Even the bloody name, George Best is just too perfectly ironic. In Trainspotting 2 they used the tiredest George Best anecdote going (one which I believe was first publicised in Michael Parkinson's biography of him), the one where the hotel porter enters his room delivering champagne to find him on the bed with the current Miss World and surrounded by thousands of pounds he'd just won in the casino and says, “George, where did it all go wrong?”
And the film doesn't really have much to add beyond that. A potentially new angle is that the start of the decline came on the night of Utd's European Cup victory at Wembley in 1968. The notion of reaching the pinnacle of his career and having nowhere else to go seems to have unlocked his depressive nature. (They are a maudlin lot these Utd players – when he won the World Cup, Bobby Charlton had apparently told brother Jack that this was as good as it got and they'd never feel like this again. Jackie told him not to be so bloody daft.)
Paddy Crerand and Mike Summerbee are prominent among the ex-players providing the talking heads. Both ex-wives are included and are presented sympathetically. After the playing career finally tails off, the films whips through the last thirty years in no time.
What the film communicates most clearly is the same depressing truth that emerges every time the Best story is gone over: there is much more footage of Best in nightclubs and boutiques than there is of him on the playing field. What you want from a George Best film is the one thing it can never give you – to show you exactly how good he was, to see what exactly he was pissing away. But all you get are the same few clips you have seen before. His legend lies within the memories of the people who saw him play. That's some tragic irony: we have a clear record of his boozing but only hazy recollections of his playing.