The members of the Beatles valued their longtime secretary, Freda Kelly, in part because of her ability to celebrate the musicians while guarding their personal lives. Noble though it may be, her reticence does “Good Ol’ Freda” no favors. The documentary transmits plenty of positive vibes, but it offers nothing fresh about the Fab Four.
Kelly was a gangly 16-year-old Liverpudlian working in a typing pool when she walked into the Cavern Club and first heard the Beatles. It was love at first sound, and she got to know Paul, John, George and then-drummer Pete Best well while hanging out with the group after shows. Kelly took over the reins of the group’s fan club, and when band manager Brian Epstein asked her if she’d like to work for the band full time, she jumped at the chance.
So began an 11-year journey, full of giddy highs and, toward the end, devastating lows. For the most part, Kelly does the talking. The 60-something grandmother stills works as a secretary, and she hasn’t lost the infectious smile that pops up onscreen countless times in photographs from the good old days. As she reminisces, there are hints of the dizzy fangirl she once was.
That Kelly was such a huge fan of the Beatles was a boon to the scores of fanatics who wrote to the band’s fan club, begging for locks of John’s hair and bits of Paul’s shirt. She knew how it felt to be a fan, so Kelly dutifully journeyed to the barber shop with the guys and procured threads from castoff clothing. She became like a sister to the quartet and, since her mother had died when she was a baby, found a surrogate mother in Ringo’s mom, Elsie.
Kelly sits on a plaid couch and relays cute anecdotes and exciting episodes while director Ryan White weaves in archival footage of girls fainting and images of old headlines. The soundtrack consists primarily of Beatles covers. While the tales of the band’s spectacular rise create a genial mood, the film feels superficial. Kelly can be cagey, and when a voice offscreen asks if she ever dated any of the guys, she demurs, saying, “That’s personal.” This comes as less of a shock once Kelly recalls an episode in which she scolded the band’s fans in a newsletter for their curiosity over John’s extramarital affair with Yoko Ono and the status of Paul’s marriage. Intensely loyal, Kelly also refused offers of money for tidbits of information about the Beatles.
The documentary is ostensibly about Kelly, but questions remain unanswered about her, as well. Her daughter is interviewed, but it’s unclear what happened to Kelly’s husband. The death of Kelly’s son is mentioned only in passing.
Having spent more than a decade working with the Beatles, Kelly must have loads of secrets she keeps hidden away like all the boxes of Beatles scrapbooks stacked in her attic. Her tight-lipped nature is commendable, but it leaves a moviegoer wanting more.
PG. At West End Cinema. Contains some thematic material and smoking. 87 minutes.