Friday, 13 April 2012

The Damned United (2009)

The Damned United is a semi fictional biopic about English football manager Brian Clough, based on the novel by David Peace, probably best known for his Red Riding quartet of novels.

Michael Sheen, who makes a habit of being cast as real people (Frost Nixon, The Queen, Fantabulosa) does a very convincing job of portraying "old big 'ead".

For those unaware of who Brian Clough was, he was a very talented striker with an incredible scoring record, whose playing career came to a premature end after picking up a bad injury. He went on to be one of English football's most successful managers. He was a very outspoken and eccentric character who was always good for an insightful/controversial/amusing quote.

The film covers the period of Clough's career between 1968 and 1974, the story is told in flashback, starting with Clough's appointment as manager of league champions Leeds United. Going back in time we see Clough's early days in charge of Derby County, then languishing in the second division, they get drawn against Leeds in the cup, and so begins a bitter rivalry between Clough and manager of Leeds at the time Don Revie.

Brian Clough was a man of principal and firmly believed that the game should be played in an entertaining way, whereas Revie, a dour man, didn't care if his team were universally hated for their strong arm tactics and down right cheating as long as they continued to win.

After what Clough perceives as a personal slight against him by Revie, he becomes obsessed with making his team the most successful in England, and so begins a sequence of events which sees some incredible highs and devastating lows.

When Revie is offered the job of England national team manager, Clough risks jeopardising the friendship of his coach Peter Taylor, and his own career, when he accepts the vacancy at Leeds, inheriting a team of players whom he offends from day one, when he tells them they might as well throw their medals in the bin, because they won them by cheating.

The assembled cast are very good, aside from Sheen, there are good performances from Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney and Jim Broadbent. And director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Longford) does a great job of capturing the authentic look and feel of England in the 1970s.

I remember seeing Brian on numerous occasions on TV as a kid, and he always stood out from his contemporaries as a supremely eloquent speaker and a unique personality who invariably left his interviewer lost for words.

Even if you don't really know anything about football, it makes for entertaining viewing.

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