Good Ol’ Freda lacks the juicy gossip or inside scoops that might be expected from a profile of Freda Kelly, the Beatles’ secretary and head of the band’s fan club from 1963 until their breakup. That’s largely because of Freda’s modest and reticent nature, precisely the kind of personality that made it possible for her to avoid much publicity for the past four decades. At one point, when asked if she ever dated any of the Beatles, she just smiles and says, “That’s personal.”
Commendable and understandable as Freda’s respect for privacy is, her unwillingness (or perhaps inability in some cases) to offer more than descriptions of the fan club and general reflections on her experience with the band leaves little for Ryan White’s documentary to explore. As the film moves chronologically through the ’60s and the band’s increasing fame, it returns repeatedly to the same topics. First, the letters Freda sorted through, which often contained charming requests from the band’s devotees, such as the girl who asked if Paul McCartney would come to a party of hers and included a map to guide him there. The doc’s second go-to subject, Freda’s loyalty to the band and her work, is most compelling when also related to some of these letters: Hearing how Freda tried to meet fans’ ridiculous demands, whether for strands of hair or pieces of band members’ shirts, accounts for some funny moments. But ultimately the stories about the letters begin to all sound alike, as do the many testimonies about Freda’s commitment to her job, rendering the film repetitive.
The most captivating facet of Good Ol’ Freda is the vision it provides, through interviews and photographs, of the Beatles’ time in Liverpool, including reflections from Freda and other Liverpudlians on the hype surrounding the band and their concerts at the Cavern Club. As one interviewee says, it’s hard to believe anyone who says that they knew from the start that the Beatles were going to be a huge success; for most people at the time, headlining the largest theater in Liverpool was the biggest marker of success imaginable for the band or anyone else.
With stories like these, Good Ol’ Freda does shed some light on less talked about aspects of Beatles history (a relative category in any case), but still leaves it far from essential viewing. Depending on your level of cynicism, you might view the film as a compelling look into the inner workings of the band’s publicity machine or as the final throes of the Beatles nostalgia industry. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: Good Ol’ Freda, like so much output about the band, will prove fascinating only to the die-hard fans that Freda spent all those years writing to, though in this case that’s no small number of people.