UK/Ireland 1999

Reviewed by Paul Elliott


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Belfast, March 1994. Now in his 50s, George Best, the celebrated former Manchester United footballer, is appearing on the after-dinner circuit with fellow ex-pro Rodney Marsh. Best requires a large brandy before he takes to the stage. The following morning, a hungover Best is shattered to discover Sir Matt Busby, the ex-manager of Manchester United and mentor to Best, is dead.

Northern Ireland, the early 50s. George Best is spotted by scout Bob Bishop. Best signs for Manchester United and embarks on a brilliant career which includes winning the European Cup in 1968 ten years after an air crash in Munich decimated United's then team. Best's pop-star looks earn him the title of 'The Fifth Beatle'. His performances on the football field suffer as his taste for alcohol grows. Sacked by United in the 70s, Best finishes his playing career in the US. During a television interview in the wake of Busby's death, Best expresses a wish to be remembered simply as a good footballer.


In choosing a subject as universally known as George Best, John Lynch, who plays Best's title character, and co-writer and director Mary McGuckian face a huge challenge. Best's life and the history of Manchester United are so well-documented in the UK and Ireland, where this film is certain to find its biggest audience, that the dramatisation of events can often appear stagy, however thoroughly the story is researched. Lynch and McGuckian spent five years preparing the script for Best and wisely used archive footage of the footballer's greatest performances rather than attempt any kind of re-enactment. The trouble with Best, however, is that it is far less convincing once it leaves the pitch and - in a biopic as in a sports movie - credibility is vital.

The casting does not always help. Roger Daltrey still carries too much baggage from his time in The Who to pass for television football pundit Rodney Marsh. Jerome Flynn is similarly unbelievable as England's leading football ambassador Bobby Charlton, despite a creditable and rather comical recreation of the balding Charlton's famous combed-over hairstyle. The most inspired casting sees Linus Roache as Best's striking partner Denis Law. Roache's mimicry of Law is near-perfect, from the 70s hairstyle to his dry Scots banter. But as Best John Lynch has the toughest role.

To a boy growing up in Northern Ireland as Lynch did, George Best must have seemed an icon on a par with Muhammad Ali. Best himself has voiced his satisfaction with this film, but although Lynch is adept at imitating Best's mannerisms, his portrayal of this legendary figure offers no real insight into why Best lost his brilliant career to alcoholism, or whether he now views his life with regret. Perhaps Best does not know himself.

Like the equally disappointing Fever Pitch, Best is a football-related film that's about much more than just football. Lynch likens the life story of George Best to those of Marilyn Monroe and Diana Spencer, but apart from a scene where a handful of schoolgirls mob him, scant evidence is presented of the pressures of public life that drove him to drink. And if Best ever really cared about the one girlfriend focused on here, Anna, Lynch does not convey it.

Lynch and McGuckian have worked diligently to get the surface details right in their record of George Best's amazing life. They even enlisted former Manchester United star Ray Wilkins to act as "football choreographer" in an attempt to ensure those on-pitch scenes which aren't archival footage are as realistic as possible. (Wilkins also makes a cameo appearance as a swarthy European referee.) The result is a largely anecdotal movie which does little to explain the myth of the best loved British sportsman of the past 30 years.


Mary McGuckian
Mary McGuckian
Chris Roff
Elvira Bolz
John Lynch
Mary McGuckian
Director of Photography
Witold Stok
Kant Pan
Production Designer
Max Gottlieb
Music/Music Arranger/Music Producer
Mark Stevens
©Best Films Ltd
Production Companies
IAC Film/Sky Pictures/The Isle of Man Film Commission in association with Smoke & Mirrors Film Productions and Pembridge Pictures present a film by Mary McGuckian
Development funds: Bord Scannán Na hÉireann
Executive Producers
Steve Christian
Guy Collins
Michael Ryan
John Lynch
Line Producer
North West:
Carol Rodger
Production Supervisor
North West:
Liam Foster
Production Co-ordinators
Clare Spencer
North West:
Dawn Mortimer
Production Manager
Adam Bohling
Unit Manager
Kevin Chapman
Location Managers
John Tuite
North West:
Stephen Cheers
Chris Nixon
Liz Pearson
Steve Harrow
Assistant Directors
David Reid
Dan Toland
Mick Ward
Script Supervisors
Pat Rambaut
Caroline Sax
John Hubbard
Ros Hubbard
Dan Toland
Camera Operators
Trevor Coop
Alan Stewart
Gordon Hayman
2nd Unit:
Jamie Harcourt
Video Cameraman
David Niblock
Digital Effects Artist
Tom Sparks
Digital Effects Producer
Emma Ibbetson
Spirit Telecine
Scanning/Recording Bureau
Cinesite London
Visual Effects
Smoke & Mirrors
Special Effects Editor
Jack Whittaker
Visual Effects Editor
Jim Howe
Art Directors
Sara Jane Cornish
Grant Armstrong
Costume Designer
Anushia Nieradzik
Wardrobe Supervisors
Theresa Hughes
Peter Halston
Dorka Nieradzik
Linda Catlin
Title Design
Janice Mordue
General Screen Enterprises
Optical Printer
Andy Wilkins
Optical Co-ordinator
Mike Bond
Rostrum Camera
Darren De'Ath
The Irish Film Orchestra & Choir
Conducted by
Mark Armstrong
Vocal Soloists
Orla Breslin
Mary E. O'Sullivan
Sinéad Pratshke
Solo Violin
Alan Smale
Guitar Solos
Mark Johns
Also featuring tracks performed by
Blues & Grooves
Mark Stevens
Mark Johns
Bass Guitar:
Geraint Roberts
Guy Rickerby
Terry Davies
John Meginson
Music Supervisor
Don Gallacher
Richard Lewzey
"Long Black Limousine", "Strikeout", "Green Onions" by Blues & Grooves; with The 'Power Play' Horns; "Absolute Repute" by Blues & Grooves, 'Power Play' Horns; "Solitude", "Grisette" by The Geraint Roberts Band; "Boy Genius" by Sugarfree; "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys; "Sneaky Pete" by P.T. & The House Band; "I'm Just a Baby" by Louise Cordet; "House of the Rising Sun" by Roger Daltrey; "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass; "I Say a Little Prayer" by Margot Daly; "Don't Bring Me Down" by The Prettythings; "Buzz the Jerk" by The Prettythings; "In a Broken Dream" by Python Lee Jackson featuring Rod Stewart; "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" by Steve Harley
Football Choreography
Ray Wilkins
Sound Recordists
Jim Greenhorn
Simon Clark
Re-recording Mixer
Adrian Rhodes
Supervising Sound Editor
Tim Lewiston
Dialogue Editor
Elaine 'Chucks' Thomas
Re Voice Artist
Marcella Riordan
Toby Harris
Andrea King
Paula Boram
Vicky Brazier
John Lynch
George Best
Ian Bannen
Matt Busby
Jerome Flynn
Bobby Charlton
Ian Hart
Nobby Stiles
Patsy Kensit
Cal MacAninch
Paddy Crerand
Linus Roache
Denis Law
Adrian Lester
David Hayman
Tommy Docherty/the barman
James Ellis
Dickie Best
Roger Daltrey
Rodney Marsh
Clive Anderson
Sophie Dahl
Eva Haraldsted
Stephen Fry
Frazer Crane
Dave Duffy
limousine driver
Lalor Roddy
petrol station attendant
Pauline Lynch
Jacqueline Lynch
Ian Fitzgibbon
Owen O'Neill
Sean Kearns
David McCracken
Gertrude Montgomery
bingo girl
Alan McClenaghan
man with tattoos
Nora Connolly
man with tattoos' wife
Richard Orr
Tom Collins
concerned man
Terence Corrigan
young George Best
Jim Sheridan
Bob Bishop
Philip Madoc
Jimmy Murphy
Robert Campion
Eric McMordie
Mark Byrne
Harry Gregg
Marie Jones
Anne Best
Micha Bergese
Portuguese bartender
Nick Wall
John McCarthy
Louis Hammond
Ken Stanley
Steve Ryan
Ray Wilkins
P.J. Davidson
Louis Edwards
Amanda Ryan
Mrs Crerand
Mary McGuckian
Norma Charlton
Gregory Battle
the furrier
Sean Blowers
the bookie
Neil Caple
the barber
Ed Maddrell
tabloid hack
Ronnie Fox
cronie in the bar
Dave Nicholls
David Corden
customer in blinkers
Stan Pinton
Andy Quine
Sara Stockbridge
night huntress
Jamie Gambell
London cop
Rick Leaf
Constable Davies
Sean Wightman
Chelsea cop
David Artus
Sargent Williams
Kim Fenton
Gerald Soames
Jason Gilroy
Ron Webster
Brian Regan
reporters at Chelsea siege
Derek Newton
David Reid
Old Trafford stewards
Alex Best
George Best
Ken Wolstenholme
Sean Barrett
João Ferreira
football commentators
Optimum Releasing
9,577 feet
106 minutes 25 seconds
Black and White by
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011