The Damned United

The Damned United


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Having combined for The Deal, The Queen and Frost/Nixon, the dynamic duo of screenwriter Peter Morgan and acting chameleon Michael Sheen (no relation to Charlie or Martin) return for their latest rendering of British iconography. But how do you follow up the British Prime Minister and a legendary talk-show host? Simple, opt for one of the most notorious football mangers in memory and shine the spotlight on this darkest hours.

After gaining promotion with Derby County and revitalising the club, mercurial manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) eventually gets the chance to manage the mighty Leeds United. However, determined to outdo the club’s former manager and his personal rival Don Revie (Colm Meaney), Clough alienates his long-running second-in-command Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) and things start to fall apart.

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Of course, much like Clough himself, The Damned United will split opinion. You don’t need to be a regular on the terraces to enjoy it but an understanding of the beautiful game will undoubtedly heighten your enjoyment. The Clough family have angrily distanced themselves from the film (declining invitations to the premiere) yet former Soccer AM presenter/all-round footy institution Tim Lovejoy hails it as “the greatest football movie of all time”.

Okay, so the historical anoraks out there will be able to pick more faults with it than Alan Hansen analysing defensive play (BBC Sport journo Pat Murphy noted 17 factual inaccuracies), but for those willing to enjoy it for what it is – a movie – there’s plenty of quality to be found. Adapted from David Pearce’s acclaimed source novel the plot is well-constructed, despite an obviously limited budget the production values are impressive (the old stands and stadiums reek of poorer times) and the amount of actual football played is (penalty) spot on.

However, much like previous collaborations between the scripter and star, Sheen is the undoubted highlight. Having played Tony Blair a few times now as well as David Frost on both stage and screen, not to mention Carry On Legend Kenneth Williams in Fantabulosa!, the master mimic might have shown he excels at capturing real life figures, but this could be his best yet.

Though the aesthetic likeness is notable and the mannerisms are frequently note-perfect (apparently when first suggested for the part he spontaneously burst into impersonation), it’s Sheen’s ability to humanise the brilliant-yet-volatile legend that hits the back of the net hardest. Not a sunny biography nor a harsh vilification, here we see the late icon for what he was; charismatic yet gobby, self-assured while riddled with paranoia and more stubborn than an 18-yard box full of mules.

And, ultimately, this is where the heart of the picture lies as director Tom Hopper is more concerned with Clough’s relationships with those around him than merely capturing his fatefull 44-day tenure as Leeds boss. Firstly, his obsession with usurping idol-come nemesis Don Revie (an effective Meaney). Secondly, his marriage-like dynamic with longrunning number two Peter Taylor (the always quality Spall). Thirdly, and most importantly, his internal struggle with himself.

Better than Escape To Victory, Bend It Like Beckham and Goal!, The Damned United is how soccer movies should be done. Sure, sure, it might not be the best footy flick in recent years, but it’s definitely in the top one.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2009
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Partially fictionalised biopic of the outspoken manager, Brian Clough
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Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: Peter Morgan, David Peace

Starring: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Joseph Dempsie, Colm Meaney, Stephen Graham, Maurice Roëves, Elizabeth Carling, John Savage, Martin Compston

Year: 2009

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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