BBC drama about the birth of the Paralympic Games
Eddie Marsan and Rob Brydon in ‘The Best of Men’ Photo: BBC
Written by Lucy Gannon (Peak Practice) The Best of Men tells the story of Professor Ludwigg Guttmann a German/Jewish neurosurgeon that fled the persecution of the Nazi regime in 1939 with his family to set up home in England. In 1944 he worked at Aylesbury’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where the spinal injuries unit was “treating” World War II wounded and paralysed soldiers , they were brought into the wards in coffins and basically left to die from infected bed pressure sores. Heavily doped up on Morphine throughout the day, there was really no future for these forgotten soldiers, surgery to fuse their spines did nothing but ensure that the rest of their days were spent in wheelchairs.
Guttmann was appalled at the medical ignorance in treating spinal injuries and pioneered to change the approach in caring and rehabilitating these men. Fighting the politics of the frosty hospital staff his persistence changed the face of spinal injury care; he believed that restoring confidence and holistic interaction was the key in making life more bearable for these gentlemen, giving them back their dignity, pride and hope. Guttmann subjected the patients to hours of physical activity to encourage them to be mentally and physically strong, from this use of sport therapy the Stoke Mandeville Games in the hospital grounds were born 1948, making Professor ‘Poppa’ Guttmann the founding father of the later named Paralympic Games.
The recipe for this drama was very moving but at the same time darkly funny, Rob Brydon plays patient Cpl Wynne Bowen, in recent years I have been unimpressed with Brydon’s acting performances, his hideous portrayal of Uncle Bryn in Gavin and Stacey bordered on ham and was a cringe worthy cliché of a Welshman. But this was a sterling serious yet comedic performance I am willing to admit; he truly lifted the subject matter with his delivery of memorable retorts. Eddie Marsan was amazing Guttmann, endearing yet strong, never once venturing into the cartoonish European hint of Freud- mad professor, he was real and displayed everything he should. Young George Mackay was wonderful as injured Private William Heath and the whole cast complement each other well. The writing was not over sentimental and gushing, but had enough heart to leave you laughing and weeping in tandem, in my opinion these the best types of dramas.
Professor Guttmann was truly a hero and should be fondly remembered; he and the soldiers faced such adversity in the shadows of Hitler fascism,being together on the same rocky and painful road gave them the drive to work together to turn the negative into a positive. Perfectly timed before the 2012 London Paralympic Games, The Best of Men reminds us that there is always someone who is ready to look beyond the horizon, do what is right and display such humble humanity towards the fellow-man.
If you missed The Best of Men you can catch it on the BBC iplayer.