The Beatles’ story has been picked over for so long and by so many that it feels a bit like California after the gold rush: There are surely some unnoticed pebbles lying about, but they’re few and far between. With Good Ol’ Freda, director Ryan White seems to have stumbled on an untapped pocket rich with Beatles lore. One of the faithful Liverpudlians who seldom missed a Beatles show at the Cavern Club, Freda Kelly started working for The Beatles as a 17-year-old, when the group’s stardom didn’t stretch far beyond city limits. She stayed with them to the end and a little further, serving as the group’s secretary and running the fan club until she was asked to dissolve it when it became obvious there would be no more Beatles. Kelly is more observer than active participant in Beatles lore: Hired by Brian Epstein, she worked the office and remained behind at her father’s request when everyone else moved to London. But she’s notable as one of the few connected to the group who’s never told her story.
Until now, obviously. But while Good Ol’ Freda will surely fascinate hardcore Beatles fans, there simply isn’t a feature-length story here. Or if there is, Kelly continues to keep it to herself, which might be likely: Good Ol’ Freda portrays its subject as valuable to the organization because of her competence and discretion. She kept things organized and running, and never let her fandom get in the way of getting the job done. By day, she worked the phones, and by night, she dealt with fan letters. When it was all done, she raised her children and took other, less-glamorous jobs. She continues to work as a secretary today. Though she’s wistful in the film’s interview segments, the only real sense of regret comes from Kelly’s daughter, who bemoans the fact that her mother continues to work and live a modest life, while others who did less for The Beatles cashed in on their connection and lived well.
That doesn’t seem to bother Kelly, who spent the years asking, in her words, “Who would want to hear a secretary’s story?” She’s clearly held on to that attitude, and though she cooperates cheerfully with the film, she continues to be discreet about the old days. Asked if she has stories about dating any of the Beatles, she says, “There are stories, but I don’t want anyone’s hair falling out, or turning curly. That’s personal.” Less personal: tales of fans left heartbroken by Paul McCartney’s marriage, which Kelly remembers with an eye-roll, and memories of Brian Epstein, whose death Kelly joins others in portraying as a turning point that led to the end of the band.
Fans will appreciate the trove of Beatles photos and Kelly’s pleasant company, but the film never finds a rhythm or uncovers any particularly compelling stories. A few more interview subjects wouldn’t hurt, but beyond Kelly, the closest director Ryan White gets to the inner circle is Paul McCartney’s stepmom. The most lasting impression comes less from The Beatles than Kelly and the questions she doesn’t answer. Why did she stay quiet as long as she did? Why does she now say so little? The answer seems to be simply loyalty and modesty. She enjoyed working with the boys, but that was a long time ago. Why spoil the past by dredging through it?