George Best: Cregagh family values don’t make a drama

George Best- his Mother’s Son (BBC2 last night) managed the considerable feat of failing to capture a single hint of the man who said “”I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted.” Sure enough, this George was a pretty boy but one that would have blown over in a puff of wind. The film spurned the easy option of the legend of Icarus from East Belfast who flew too close to the sun. It opted instead for a grim tale of parallel alcoholics, mother and son, the real focus being on the Mammy. Alcoholism, nature or nurture, who knows, none of us can be sure and the film leaves the question hanging. The particular tragedy of alcoholics is that anger, boredom and rejection are so often their fate. Yet this was no Eastenders: in 1960s Protestant Cregagh, the deepest pain was suppressed. Father Dickie who died a year ago was depicted as so stoical you wanted to punch him. Not like the real man at all, we’re told. Were the separate downfalls of mother and son the fault of media pressure in the days before Max Clifford? This was strongly suggested but not developed. The modest, decent Best family circle was a collective character in the film but family values by themselves don’t make a drama. so we were left flat. “You’ve got to get used to boredom”, the Mammy warns George, already restless with his mammy-like Manchester landlady. And so, I fear, it was boredom for the viewers too. The reviews were “mixed.” Lindy McDowell who has the inside track on the family slated the film as “intrusive”. But isn’t there a contradiction in Lindy’s argument, as we read sister Barbara’s account of George’s last breath, written with Lindy’s help? The media were right there, up to the end.

  • I stopped watching it after a few minutes so cannot comment to much about the program. What I objected to was it seemed to be yet another example of TV retreating back to the days of middle class people portraying working class people, appallingly.

    The accents were dreadful, especially the lad playing Best who was a pretty boy straight out of radar, whereas Best had real grit. [yes I do have a chip shop on my should before someone claims it]

    Even the soaps have ending up doing this, look at almost any child actor in a soap these days and they sound like little Lord Fonteroy, even Phil Mitchells son sounds like he goes to a prep school up west.

    The program was obvious tosh because no one was with Mrs Best when she started drinking, but come on, she still has family alive to feel their pain.

    As it is alright to portray dead working class women on TV who are struggling against a bitter foe, when can we see some poor middle class women behaving in a similar way. I will not be holding my breath.

    As this is alluded to in another thread I will just add this, those nice middle class people who inhabit the north do not it seems like going to the theatre to see themselves portrayed, wart and all, they prefer to believe their excreta does nor smell.

    But they just love looking down their snouts at us, the great unwashed, what a funny bunch they are.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Difficult to do well and they didnt do it well – watched for about 15 minutes – script and storyline were full of cliches – some awful moments like the moonlight chat between George and Busby and they even managed to not make his rise to fame convinicing. Poor.

  • Guppy

    I found it perfectly watchable and well acted, especially ‘Barbara’. It told some lesser known facts about alcoholics well and without overstatement. (Most die of malnutrition.)
    ‘George’s’ accent, if a little middle class, held out well.

    My worst criticism was ‘Ann’s’ unchanging hair which was somewhat unclassy. Could the BBC not have afforded a couple more wigs?

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    I caught the last 45 minutes of this and thought it was ok as a drama. It was a sincere attempt at portraying alcoholism…. and sure hasn’t it affected many people on this sometimes sad wee island and these islands.

    But what stuck in my mind was the incident where George’s sister Barbara was insulted and attacked by a Catholic/Nationalist girl and mob and had to make a run for it. We have seen in many, many movies where Catholics/Nationalists were at the recieving end but this was perhaps one of the first depictions I’ve seen of the other side of the Troubles, where ordinary innocent Protestant people were persecuted. It made me sick and disgusted at the incident where Barbara was maliciously slapped in the face. The actress playing Barbara portrayed her very well as an honest and innocent working class Protestant girl deeply troubled and concerned for her alcoholic mother and gifted brother.

  • Jason

    From looking at the credits I would surprised if many of the cast or indeed any, are from East Belfast and could be loosely described as Protestants. It does raise the question of how accurate a representation it was, for this reason.

    I am not sure if this really matters, but I can’t imagine the Steve McQueen film on Bobby Sands featuring a pre-dominantly Protestant cast. While it is true George Best was apolitical, his background was undeniably that of a East Belfast Protestant.

    It does pose the wider question of whether actors from Northern Ireland can accurately portray experiences of people of another religion? Whether the life experiences are really that different?

    Also there is a broader question about how Ulster Protestants are represented in local cultural discourse. Recently its been loyalist killers by Liam Neeson in Five minutes of heaven, sadistic prison officers in Hunger or as “tragic” dead celebrities. The underlying message seems to be Protestants have to be dead to be represented as anything other than sectarian thugs.

  • Rory Carr

    It was truly appalling. The lad playing George Best with a curious middle-class Fermanagh acccent was just ever so sweet and so removed from the reality of the lively, wise cracking George that I winced each time his limpid presence invaded the screen. And I felt for poor Lorcan Cranach who struggled manfully as Dickie in surely the most one-dimensional role that has been written for the screen since Godzilla. The screenwriter for the original King Kong allowed for more emotional depth and psychological insight into a fucking giant gorilla!

    No, Jason the religion of the actor really isn’t a factor when playing a character who is of necessity defined by his religion. I don’t believe there was even one Aztec actor for example in Peter Hall’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Albert Finney I recall was very persuasive in the title role in John Osborne’s Luther even though, as far as I know Finney is not himself a Lutheran.

    And don’t forget the South’s favorite gay protestant, Graham Norton who plays an Catholic priest in the odd episode of Father Ted.

    In fact the only help that a good actor needs when playing one of themmuns is a little assistance from the make-up department so that his eyes appear a bit closer together.

  • willis


    “Lindy McDowell who has the inside track on the family slated the film as “intrusive”. But isn’t there a contradiction in Lindy’s argument, as we read sister Barbara’s account of George’s last breath, written with Lindy’s help? The media were right there, up to the end.”

    And what about this belter.

    Actually a good piece, just like Lindy McDowell’s but ruined by the sub’s need for a bit of tabloid.

  • Brian Walker

    Willis, Thanks for the sister’s testimony. You indeed link to a belter. Does drama need to be factually correct in order to sustain its claim to express higher truth? Time and time again the controversy rages. The best answer I have is that the further back in time it is set, the less the bald facts matter, provided it doesn’t wilfully distort. In the 70s, many people will have got their version of what happened between the wars in 1920s England from the brilliant historical series Day of Hope by the left wing film maker Ken Loach, who also made The Wind that Shakes the Barley, on family unity during the Irish War of Independence and split in the civil war. Both are strong individual interpretations that can be quarreled with but they are a signature films about historical events that are constantly debated. Continual debate is the public’s protection and there’s no lack of it on historical subjects.

    But when drama is made about contemporary private lives, and the subjects themselves deny basic facts, it enters different territory. Of course, drama subjects can be in denial but that isn’t suggested here. The film therefore seems pointless as a biopic even if it was intended as a warning against alcoholism. Drama needs character, a plot and language that grip us over and above the issues. By that standard, George Best the movie was a failure although a well intended one. And no, I can’t imagine it having been made if Dickie had still been alive. His reaction would have been too embarrassing for the BBC.