By Andrea K. Hammer
As testimony that one man willing to speak up and fight the system can make a difference, The Best of Men is a true story about Dr. Ludwig Guttmann‘s heroic work during World War II. His absolute refusal to accept the limitations of a patient’s broken back and others’ severe injuries transformed the care of patients in England’s Stoke Mandeville hospital and gave birth to the Paralympic Games.
From the moment Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (Eddie Marsan) enters the dark hospital ward and insists that the shades are opened, he shows fierce determination, subtle humor and underlying compassion. The representation of this doctor’s unrelenting “tough love” approach reveals how insistence on making a positive difference can empower others to reclaim their lives. As Dr. Guttmann, the wholly convincing Eddie Marsan refuses to accept resistance from administrators, nurses, patients and family members and advocates for patients’ improved physical health and psychological well-being–particularly through sports participation in the Paralympic Games.
Playing the initially rough-edged and cynical patient Corporal Wynne Bowen, Rob Brydon adds spice to the film. His jagged remarks are delivered with arrow-like precision, resulting in the desired flinch-filled reactions. As he gains strength and returns to his family after great skepticism about fulfilling this role again, Rob Brydon reveals the slow changes that are possible for even a crusty and seemingly broken character.
As the boyish Private William Heath, George MacKay expresses the utterly dispiriting destruction of war. From the dream sequences recalling previously happy times with his former girlfriend to his excitement about welcoming participants at the Paralympic Games, George MacKay shows how one severely injured soldier found the physical and emotional strength to re-engage with life because of Dr. Ludwig Guttmann‘s encouragement and support.
For viewers who find every aspect of war distressing, The Best of Men is an important reminder that humanity, compassion and goodness can still flourish under the most difficult circumstances.