Finding Jack Charlton
English footballing legend Jack Charlton, now in his 80s, stares at photos of his iconic career that adorn his home, which he shares with his loving wife. However, these are memories that he’s unable to recall, thanks to the onset of dementia. It’s a brief but unmistakably poignant image that encapsulates the tragedy and struggle that come with the illness. What is he searching for when he stares at the younger self he doesn’t recognise? Perhaps this is the question alluded to in the title of Pete Thomas’s documentary, but upon watching Finding Jack Charlton it’s uncertain if the filmmaker knew exactly what they were looking for either.
Restlessly jumping between key moments in Charlton’s career (chronology be damned), this project’s primary objective seems to be to memorialise the late sporting icon as an infallible, godlike figure who (the filmmaker and the drummer from U2 would have you believe) singlehandedly united Ireland through football. To an extent, this may be partly true – from his World Cup-winning stint as a player to his euphoric career managing the Irish team, Charlton’s legacy and celebrity cannot be underestimated. But the film, essentially a glossy clip show of Charlton’s career, feels like a drastic oversimplification of decades of political turmoil in the name of romanticising football and a key figure in its history.
Likewise, Thomas doesn’t do himself any favours by assuming the viewer’s pre-existing knowledge of Charlton and his career. By assuming that his audience is already well-versed in the context (which, in fairness, this film’s target audience probably is), Thomas can quickly cover a lot of ground. But for those less clued-in on the finer detail, short onscreen captions and buzzwords from talking heads just don’t do the trick. If you have no prior interest in Charlton, Irish football, or football in general then don’t expect this documentary to spark your curiosity.
And what of the elderly Charlton, staring at his forgotten accomplishments? The former footballer’s dementia and its effects are only briefly addressed, making it more of an afterthought than a thoughtful insight.
If there’s one thing this documentary does well, it’s gleefully romanticise the camaraderie and patriotism that have become associated with football. But there’s only so far this goes before it becomes hollow.
Finding Jack Charlton is released digitally on demand on 23rd November 2020.
Watch the trailer for Finding Jack Charlton here: