Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: The Three Kings

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Copyright: Spirit Entertainment

Football, especially in recent months, has been some great form of escapism. It has always been that way. The Three Kings wishes to tap into that fantasy, the working-class heroes and miners who found themselves attracted to the art of football. With the idea of the working-class game lost to the international ferocity and inevitable money that lures so many to the game, this documentary from Jonny Owen engages with the glory days of three managers who helmed three of arguably the greatest football clubs in sporting history. Manchester United, Celtic and Liverpool, and the managers that revitalised them and brought them to prominence are highlighted well here, with the impact it had on the people and fans picked apart the whole way through.

As close to a time capsule as audiences will ever get for Scottish football, The Three Kings focuses strongly on the period of disasters and downfalls these three clubs found themselves grappling with. Manchester United’s tragic Munich plane crash is touched upon, as well as the sectarianism behind the Celtic and Rangers rivalry. It is shown with confidence and an inevitable bias for the team it looks to portray. No harm with that, especially since Owen crafts a convincing and engaging narrative. He gives a strong stylish choice, relying not on reminiscent moments of rose-tinted hindsight, but the footage available to him through past interviews.

While these pockets of interest are present throughout, some moments don’t inspire any insightful or engaging commentary. Sluggish pacing comes from Liverpool, clearly their injury-clad season has wounded them, and it’s quite slow in the documentary too. The Three Kings struggles to keep its pace together in these latter moments, but the hour that precedes it is well worth viewing. There are pockets of thoroughly interesting history throughout, even without attachment to these managers and football players, a love and understanding of the deep, rich history of the game should be enough to propel even the most fleeting of football fans.

Are Stein, Busby and Shankly The Three Kings that Owen claims them to be? Perhaps, and the argument presented here is well researched and convincing enough to work. Closer to a feature-length thesis on football than it is a documentary, this piece is a strong and engaging one. Touching on the troubles of sectarianism that have dominated the Scottish side of the sport for decades, and the horrors each of these great managers struggled through, Owen paints a strong picture of life in this period of the 1960s, and the unstoppable rise of a truly great sport. Exposed as the sportsmanlike entertainment it once was, The Three Kings showcases a pocket of interesting history with exceptional style, archival footage that feels and looks well utilised, and a series of interviews and soundbites playing over the top of it all, the bow around the gift that is this documentary.