Dir: Mary McGuckian. UK. 2000. 95 mins.
Prod cos: Pembridge Pictures in association with Sky Pictures and Isle of Man Film Commission. Int'l Sales: IAC Film & Television (+44 207 801 9080). Exec prods: McGuckian, John Lynch. Prods: McGuckian, Elvira Bolz, Chris Roff. Scr: McGuckian, Lynch. DoP: Witold Stok. Prod des: Max Gottlieb. Ed: Cant Pan. Music: Mark Stevens. Main cast: Lynch, Ian Bannen, Jerome Flynn, Linus Roach, Ian Hart, Patsy Kensit.
A biopic of George Best, the sports superstar whose celebrity had evaporated into a cloud of gambling, womanising and alcoholism by the time he was 30, this is a startlingly unvarnished portrait, despite Best's presence as "script consultant" (he also appears with his wife, Alex, over the closing credits).
Indeed, if anything, it spotlights the warts at the expense of the talent, good looks and charisma which made Best a media darling, resulting in a dark tone which will make the film a hard sell theatrically, though it may score in ancillary markets.
Opening in 1994, the story finds the player at a low point, allowing himself to be lampooned as an after-dinner speaker on the club circuit. The death of Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby prompts him to review his life, starting in the early Sixties when the 15-year-old lad is discovered in Belfast by an MU football scout.
The film shows Terence Corrigan only very briefly as the young Best before passing the ball to Lynch, who looks a good deal too old and careworn for these early scenes. The narrative, too, dwells swiftly on the footballer's meteoric rise before lingering on his slow decline. The problem is that Best at this stage of his life is, like most drunks, a boor and a bore, and the script sheds no light on the psychological reasons for his destructive streak and self-loathing.
Best's family and childhood - surely key elements in his make-up - get short shrift, while few of the secondary characters, other than Bannen as Busby, his gruff mentor, register strongly. Digital technology is used inventively to integrate the actors into archive footage of matches, although, overall, the cinematography has a cramped, dark feel which might look better on the small screen.