It was all a case of too much too young for George Best. He made his debut appearance for Manchester United at just seventeen and quickly rose to rock star status. In a new documentary about his life, career and untimely demise, he is heard saying that having “achieved everything” before he was twenty-two was perhaps a recipe for disaster.
Best is a polished, easy to engage with documentary. It prompts an emotional response from the viewer through the story alone. The soundtrack adds to what is there but is not necessary to invoke a sense of tragedy. Best’s life is told from the point of view of those who knew him, on and off the pitch. They have different, sometimes contradictory recollections of what happened. This makes for a multi dimensional portrait of the man, who of course meant different things to different people
Best was a footballing genius. He most famously played for Manchester United, and his home country Northern Ireland. He was the sport’s first superstar, and it’s acknowledged in the film that modern day players like David Beckham owe him a debt of gratitude. Never before had the press or the public had such interest in the personal life of a footballer. He was charming and charismatic, and well known for romancing a string of beautiful women. But the film switches pace, turning to the devastation of his alcoholism, which ultimately eclipsed his sporting ability and playboy lifestyle away from the game.
A big selling point for Best is the never-before-seen interviews. There have been many explorations of his legacy on the big and small screen over the years, so in this sense it offers something which can be upheld as new. But that isn’t to say the rest of the picture feels like it’s been done before. Every image is a wonder to behold.
The documentary combines footage from fixtures with talking heads and bits from the player’s life off the pitch. The clips of football matches are a marvel to behold. In one famous piece of footage, Best showcases outrageous dribbling skills, spectacularly outwitting a series of players in the penalty area, before putting the ball in the back of the net. It doesn’t feel like there’s any filler.
George Best died age 59 from liver complications – an inevitable consequence of his heavy drinking. He had two wives and a son, Calum Best, who is now a reality TV star. The gifted young man from Northern Ireland quit United at 27, playing for a spat of clubs around the world, before retiring ten years later. Like Beckham, in his later years he played in the United States, as part of the North American Soccer League. The film focuses on this portion of his history as much as it does on the broadly celebrated brilliance that came before.
Best (George Best: All By Himself) is a film which looks at its subjects decline and early death, but celebrates his glory days too. George Best was a one off – even Pelé described him as “the best player in the world”.