Eddie Marsan as Dr. Ludwig Guttmann. Picture from the B.B.C.


Cast: Eddie Marsan, Rob Brydon, Naimh Cussack, Richard McCabe, George MacKay, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Ben Owen-Jones, David Proud, Leigh Quinn, Daniel Wilde.

Perhaps it took the Best of Men to prove that nobody should ever be written off just because they received spinal injuries during the war.

The B.B.C. Television drama The Best of Men looked at the lives of the pioneering work of Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a German Jewish refugee whose care and compassion for those he found in the spinal unit of Stoke Mandeville proved a thorn in the sides of the British doctors.

This 90 minute film told the story of the beginning of what would become in time the Paralympic Games. The bitterness of the injured that were effectively written off, dehumanised and left to vegetate in their bed sores and drugged up state was powerful, heart breaking and touching. As Dr. Guttmann, Eddie Marsan shone brighter than he has in any other production and had the humanity to start treating his patients as people again and not as was expected by other doctors, including the arrogant and patronising Dr. Cowan, portrayed by Richard McCabe nor by the brow beaten nurses who had been force feeding the patients and feeling the distraught nature of their vocation.

The drama was written by Lucy Gannon and it’s rare for a writer to convey such sympathy without being accused of being sentimental. Ms. Gannon captured the mood excellently. By showing the physical inability of some of the patients at the start, she also managed to convey the anger within by those in the charge of Dr. Guttmann.

The mental anguish felt by Rob Brydon’s character as he faced being sent home for the weekend to reacquaint his life with his wife was something all disabled people must fear, the re-connection of what was lost. In time honoured fashion, Rob Brydon showed himself to be able to veer between high comedy and desperate bleakness. Certainly there hasn’t been a better version of the song Men of Harlech since the film Zulu and certainly not for the same reasons.

Whether this important and well written programme would have been made if the Olympic Games hadn’t come to London this year is up for debate, however the sensitivity of the issue of disability and a person’s right to overcome even the most serious of injuries remained a stirring and thought provoking piece of British television.

Ian D. Hall