Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Benny is an affectionate tribute but it suffers from being as slight as its subject and nowhere near as powerful."

Benny Lynch is a Glaswegian hero, a superstar celebrity boxer from the Gorbals. Born from deprivation, he won world titles - even caught in the chicanery of title unification he was (at least for a time) undisputed. A flyweight, his slight frame belied his talents as a boxer. In a different era he managed 88 wins from 119 bouts.

Benny tracks him from his origins in the deprivation of Glasgow to the highs of international sporting success and then, through drink and deception, back to poverty. It's a striking, stirring, story, with archive footage punctuated by various talking head interviews.

This is not the first documentary about Benny - a 2003 effort was narrated by Robert Carlyle - but it may be the most complete. It suffers in part because of distance, however - Benny's career was effectively over in 1938 and he lost his boxing license in 1939. At just 33 he was dead, and though some footage remains there's not much to contextualise his rise and fall. There's a good point made about how "boxing thrives on poverty" but even in a purely Glaswegian context there's more to be made about how the face of the city has changed, how boxing has changed. They do discuss how many more fights he had in his career than would be the case today, but there are more interesting ways to convey these differences than talking heads. There are some efforts - animated sequences by Maeve Clancy are used on occasion - but it's not enough to make Benny special.

Writer/director Andrew Gallimore has an extensive number of documentaries to his name, and though there's a lot of Irish history in there, both golf and boxing make appearances. His previous experience with documentary series rather than standalones doesn't quite explain some of the pacing issues, and though the details are somewhat unique this is a sporting tragedy "price of fame" sort of thing and there are enough of both that there's something needed to set it apart. The subject is one of Glasgow's favourite sons (there's a portrait of him in the mural on the wall of the Clutha Bar, site of a more recent tragedy), but there's more to great documentary than an interesting subject.

Benny is an affectionate tribute but it suffers from being as slight as its subject and nowhere near as powerful. It's undeniably a labour of love - at the screening Eye For Film attended at 2017's Glasgow Film Festival it was revealed that editing hadn't finished until twenty to two on the morning of its premiere. That closeness comes through, but it's to the film's detriment. It's in the corner slugging when it could be dancing in the open, and that makes it heavy going for the story of a champion flyweight.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2017
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A documentary about Benny Lynch, who was frequently described as the greatest boxer that Scotland has ever produced.

Director: Andrew Gallimore

Year: 2017

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2017

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