Director: Daniel Gordon
Cast: George Best
Watch George Best All By Himself online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Anyone who watches football will be aware of George Best. Heck, even if you can’t distinguish your Crawleys from your Chelseas, chances are you’ve heard of Bestie.
Rightly spoken in the same breath as Maradona and Pele, it’s his personal life that, even during his glittering footballing career, dominated media headlines. And that, sadly, is an unenviable focus of this documentary, George Best: All By Himself.
The title itself is a stark indication as to the tone of the doc, as we’re affectionately taken through his childhood and early days as a pro. Later, we experience the highs and lows of English football, when Best joins Manchester United and quickly establishes himself as one of the world’s most gifted players.
Yet even before the painful walkthrough of his alcoholic spiral and tragic demise, the warning signs early on are particularly heartbreaking. The entirety of All By Himself is a sombre affair: we relive plenty of archive footage of the talented player as a kid and skinny teen. His vulnerability is always on display, between his weekend partying and proving a hit with the ladies. Little did he know at the time that it was these social frivolities that would unlock his demons, leading to his death.
What All By Himself offers is a reflection. From the moment it begins, our hindsight allows us to read into his interviews, narrated words, and actions far more; it’s sad seeing the spark in his eye, while talking about football in the knowledge that he’s about to throw it all away.
Even for non-Manchester United supporters, this is an emotionally devastating film. That’s because this story transcends the beautiful game and becomes a humanistic focus on one man’s temptations that transpired as anything other than a happy ending. In the vein of Asif Kapadia’s Senna, there’s a sense of regret and foreboding poignancy running through its spine – only Best’s downfall seemed far more preventable.
“I enjoy drinking, but I don’t need it,” is perhaps the most upsettingly ominous line in a documentary that appears more a heart-wrenching retread of his life than an attempt to explore any particular avenue of new debate: alcoholism, mental health, or general life pressures could have forged a serious focal point.
The result skims over anything of real substance, in favour of yanking mercilessly at our heartstrings. Just like Best himself, the documentary will divide audiences. Some will define it exploitative, whereas others will see it as a welcomed tribute to one of the greatest professionals of all time. Despite his shameful entanglement in domestic abuse and relentless return to the bottle – even after he’d been given a life-saving liver transplant on the NHS – the feeling you’re most left with by the time its credits roll is empathy. Empathy for a man whose afflictions were too strong to overcome alone.
George Best: All By Himself is available on BBC iPlayer until 19th July.