Gabriel Clarke and Pete Thomas (director)
23 November 2020 (released)
16 November 2020
The life and career of former English footballer and Republic of Ireland manager, Jack Charlton, is skilfully encapsulated in this latest sports-led offering from the Noah Media Group. Filmed during the last 18 months of his life, and showing Charlton living with dementia, this feature documentary delivers a fascinating insight into one of the country’s most celebrated sporting figures.
Directed by Gabriel Clarke (Bobby Robson: More Than A Manager; Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans) and Pete Thomas (Adam Hills: Take His Legs), the film follows Charlton’s playing career with Leeds United before moving onto football management, focusing on his decade long tenure with the Irish national team and leading them into two World Cup finals and one European Championship.
The structure is neatly assembled, gradually building a portrait of a man and a manager through archive footage and clips and intercut with recent interviews. Whilst the film has a natural, chronological spine, the filmmakers punctuate the narrative with sequences of Charlton with his family in the present day, this adds another layer of testimony and illuminates some of the impacts and challenges of memory loss on those experiencing it, as well as their carers.
Access is king and by securing Charlton’s family, Clarke and Thomas were able to film many private domestic moments and recollections of Charlton’s life in the months leading up to his death. Reflections from the family also balance the production, by providing a counterpoint to the professional-life commentary in the film.
Contributors include former football players, Andy Townsend, Paul McGrath and Niall Quinn with a line-up of well-known faces including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr., and comedian, Brendan O’Carroll whose voices serve to reflect the cultural importance of the rise in fortunes of Ireland’s football team under Charlton’s leadership.
A slew of handwritten notes that Charlton made over the years reveal his management style and philosophy, and mantras such as ‘be a dictator, … but a nice one’ populate the film to great effect and become an intriguing storytelling tool in their own right.
Charlton’s relationship with his famous younger brother, Sir Bobby Charlton, has always attracted a good deal of interest. A strained and difficult brotherly relationship emerges as the film progresses, but to the filmmakers’ credit they ask the pertinent questions and then move on and avoid pressing further into private family matters and in this instance, the film feels all the more authentic and tender for it.
Overall, the production is visually appealing with an eclectic mix of extreme close-ups, stylised wide-shots and a range of soft-focus framings, alongside a glut of terrific archive. Some of the film’s interview settings such as, empty halls and clubhouses are over-used as documentary backdrops. Similarly, the repetitive use of sea imagery in the interview set-ups for one of the film’s key contributors, former Irish squad player Paul McGrath, is another predictable ‘go-to’ location. McGrath talking about his personal struggles and his working relationship with Charlton, is powerful stuff and didn’t need an evocative setting, but these are small gripes.
This is a compelling and poignant film with an appeal that stretches much farther than the football stands, with its down-to-earth portrayal of an ambitious young man who went on to become a football legend - told by those who were closest to him.
Finding Jack Charlton is available on DVD & Digital Download from 23rd November.