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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London