Finding Jack Charlton review: a fitting tribute

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The life and work of Jack Charlton is remembered in the documentary Finding Jack Charlton – here’s our review.

Though it’s quite a small film, Finding Jack Charlton is trying to do some quite big things. On the surface, this is the story of a footballing legend, a man who was part of the team that won England the World Cup in 1966. And then, when he stepped into football management, the person who turned around the fortunes of the Irish team, including a memorable victory over England at the Euro 88 tournament.

Charlton’s life had still more to it than even that, however. Notwithstanding the moment he graced the cover of a ZX Spectrum game – something this interesting documentary feature overlooks – there’s his family life, his relationship with his brother and, in his later years, living with dementia. What the film Finding Jack Charlton tries to do is tell a bit of all of those stories. As a consequence, it’s more successful in some areas than others, but it still packs a lot into its 90-minute running time.

Drawing on footage from the later years of his family life, as well as an array of talking heads that range from former teammates and players of his, through to Brendan O’Carroll of Mrs Brown’s Boys fame, a broad picture is painted of Charlton, and his character. There’s plenty of interview and archive footage of the man too, along with an exploration of the pages of notes he made. Those notes offer one of the more cinematic touches in the film too, with animation used to bring them to life.

But for the most part, this is a very steady, careful and pretty formal glimpse into Charlton’s life. It’s very well done too, and there are real highlights. Footage of Charlton’s after-dinner speaking is as witty as you’d expect, as is the moment he goes to meet youngsters in Ireland who start quizzing him. Then there are the quiet, tender moments, the footage as he goes about life in the shadow of dementia. His widow, Pat, has particular poignant words, and there’s much about the film that’s both striking and sticks with you.

I couldn’t shake the fact that a part of the story was missing, though. The narrative of the feature returns understandably to the relationship Jack had with his brother, Bobby, and for reasons the film does eventual explain, that side of the family is absent. It’s hard to see just what the filmmakers could do about this, and the gap is plugged with archive material to an extent. But the gap is felt.

It’s still a good, absorbing documentary, though. I don’t think it’s something that aches for a cinema screen, and the fact that it arrives on BBC television this side of Christmas feels natural. But that’s not to undersell it. Finding Jack Charlton is very much worth 90 minutes of your time.


You can find the DVD/Blu-ray release here.

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