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In football – and sport in general – there aren’t many who make their mark both as a player and a manager, but one man who did was Jack Charlton. Talented certainly, but it was the big fella’s personality that really stood out, and this feature-length documentary captures it in some style.
Finding Jack Charlton is nothing short of a masterpiece, deftly balancing the film’s three main sub-plots: his glorious reign as manager of the Republic of Ireland, relationship with his brother, Bobby Charlton, and the unfortunate onset of dementia in his twilight years. The geniuses behind it all are ITV Sport reporter, Gabriel Clarke, who has also produced features on Joe Calzaghe and Brian Clough, and filmmaker Pete Thomas.
But this blows them all out of the water. The way each aspect of Charlton’s life is intertwined over and over again is filmmaking of the highest calibre. The whole thing could have easily gone awry, but it’s all woven into a seamless tapestry. Also, what separates this from others of its kind is that you don’t need to be a football fan to appreciate it, as it’s merely the common thread. As good as films such as Class Of ’92 are, you really need to be into the sporting aspect. Nor does it fall into the trap of trying to sugarcoat the subject at hand. We all have our faults and Charlton was no different, so this is always a candid portrayal.
Highlights include the various talking heads. Besides former players and staff, it’s a roll-call of the great and the good of Irish culture and politics – there’s everyone from U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and author Roddy Doyle, to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Amongst all this is previously unseen footage, as well as documented thoughts from the man himself, at times proving that, even with dementia, life isn’t always joyless. As Clarke and Thomas embarked on the project, Charlton’s condition was more advanced than they thought, which meant the horse’s mouth was effectively a no-go. That it still manages to get to the heart of the subject so deeply is, in itself, incredible.
At the heart of all great movies are underlying themes – what’s it really all about? With Finding Jack Charlton, it’s personification. What certain people stood for and represented; how their lives ran parallel with how things were changing and evolving at the time. Without this, the great storytelling of Charlton’s career would be worthless, not least in how he managed to lift the Emerald Isle out of some of its darkest days.
All of which puts the film on a par with greats such as When We Were Kings and Senna, it really is that good. Charlton never reached the status of global icon like Muhammad Ali and Ayrton Senna did, so it’s highly unlikely the movie will ever get the same adulation outside of the British Isles, but you can’t have it all.
Despite its often hard exterior, it still manages to retain a very down-to-earth feel and charm – not least because it harks back to a bygone era when the game was a much simpler affair – which just about sums up the man himself. Finding Jack Charlton is now streaming on BBC iPlayer.