Best: His Mother's Son (shown yesterday evening on BBC 2) follows briskly on the heels of Clough tragi-comedy The Damned United (article here) and reveals the dark, destructive story of 1970s football legend George Best and his mother, Ann, both alcoholics. At an hour and a half long, the film has enough time to make a presence felt, but its menacing coldness means viewers were left with little feeling at its close. Thank god we had Adrian Chiles and his West Bromwich jokers to lighten the mood directly afterwards...
Directed by Colin Barr (Maxwell, The Lavender List), the film is faithful to mid late 60s, early 70s Belfast (riots and unrest puncture shots in and around the Best household) and is pitched directly to tug at our heartstrings. The addiction that plagues mother and son is well buffeted with brooding character shots in dreary locations like the Best family kitchen and George-funded chip shop.
Michelle Fairley's performance as a stricken mum is moving and at times unsettling, while Lorcan Cranitch is brilliantly restrained as George's father Dickie. Problems arrive in Tom Payne's portrayal of Best; never moving into second gear, he gives a restrained, lazy act at odds with his mothers angry emotional state. Early on, a 15 year old George is told by his family that a move to Manchester is "Your chance to be yourself", and later his mother snarls "Yes George, the whole world revolves around you."
Bored after reaching superhuman heights on the football pitch, GB hit party hot spots and gossip columns with unshakable zest. Back in Belfast, his mother crumbled under her son's media attention and found solace in drinking with girls half her age, eventually frightening off daughter Barbara and causing anguish for loyal husband Dickie.
Dickie is a hard working, proud man who at first comes across as a disciplinarian (on George being late for training he crows "He's a footballer, not a pop star") but as the film progresses his demeanour softens as his wife's condition deteriorates. He's ambivalent to George's self-inflicted demons (GB first retired from football at the age of 27), preferring to force his elder daughters and their estranged mother together.
In a sobering postscript, the film reveals that Ann Best died at 54, after just 10 years drinking. Her son lasted just five more life years, but his abuse took place through his fall from grace; from teenage heart-throb to TalkSport studio dweller.
As a spectacle, Best: His Mother's Son is a mix of 70s nostalgia and cold anguish; the film equivalent of Joy Division's deathly but daring, post Ian Curtis album Closer.
Watch Best: His Mother's Son on BBC iPlayer, until next Sunday (3rd May).