If there's any doubt that there was going to be another love in of a great talent then that's dispelled in the opening scene: In close up, Best's first wife Angie regales us with a story: She's driving baby Calum to a check up on a rainy night and sees a figure staggering through oncoming traffic. She thinks it's a homeless person. But it's her husband. "I'm done," she says and doesn't stop the car. Painted as a Shakespearean tragedy, this warts-n'-all documentary explores the Manchester United star’s talent but doesn’t pull any punches in mapping out his decline.
After Angie's story, All By Himself gets down to business charting the rise and rise of the homesick boy from Belfast. With his Beatle haircut, good looks and style, Best was the first pop star footballer. The girls, the parties, the media hounding. He opened boutiques. And he wowed the crowds at Old Trafford. Although totally aware of his talent there was no Ronaldo posturing – in the loads of footy footage on offer, a goal is celebrated with a punch to the air and a jog back to the halfway line.
But there were warning signs already. Best tells an interviewer he sees nothing wrong with having a few drinks, that he doesn't 'need' it and can stop at any time; as early as 1967 his mother tells a journalist that he 'should have more sense.' A documentary of two halves, the meteoric rise gives way to the slow decline, the start of which is attributed to the retirement of manager Matt Busby; thereafter United suffered and Best didn't hide his frustration, taking his ire out on referees. He would go AWOL from training and one absence instilled a media manhunt, tracking him down to Sinead Cusack's London apartment. Retiring at twenty-seven, Best got another chance in LA in the NASL. But the drinking didn't stop and a series of last chances with other teams went ignored.
Daniel Gordon's style is cut and dry: bar that opening shot through Angie's rain-soaked windscreen, Gordon uses only interviews (always in close up) and archive footage to tell the story. There's no narration or than Best's own insights culled from interviews. The simplicity of the style doesn't allow anyone to embellish details: Best was a world class footballer… and he, no one else, threw it away by drinking 'All By Himself'. Angie, who doesn't truck with alcoholism being a disease ("a disease doesn't give you a choice but you choose to put a drink to your lips."), probably sums up his fame and drinking problem best: "If 70,000 people wanted a drink with George, they would have one and George would have 70,000."
It's missing Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Calum Best, reportedly making his own documentary, but in giving over most of the talking heads to the women in his life – Angie, Alex and girlfriend Jackie Glass (now a Buddhist nun) – All By Himself is an intimate affair.