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THE DAMN UNITED, 2009
Starring: Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, Jimmy Reddington
Taking over England's top football club Leeds United, previously successful manager Brian Clough's abrasive approach and his clear dislike of the players' dirty style of play make it certain there is going to be friction. Glimpses of his earlier career help explain both his hostility to previous manager Don Revie and how much he is missing right-hand man Peter Taylor who has loyally stayed with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Release Date: 27 March 2009 (UK)
Football/soccer films; as a reviewer who hails from the country that invented the sport, we are not very successful at making decent films about the sport. I’m sure there are many of us who are sick to the back teeth with crudely made, “geezer”-esque films about football that inadvertently celebrates the disgusting ‘hooligan’ sub-culture that tends to dominate the sport in recent years (I’m looking at you, Nick Love et al).
How wonderful it is, then, to discover arguably the best “football film” of all time, courtesy of Tom Hooper and his very brilliant “The Damned United” (2009).
The film’s cast is standout. Whilst the film has many wonderful elements, and it is clear that so much effort has been made to recapture the essence of the era, the cast is the film’s strongest asset, featuring wonderful performances from Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney – All making a fantastic contribution to carefully portraying these treasured figures in the game’s English history. Clough’s determined and relentless personality is captured almost flawlessly by Michael Sheen. The “Cloughisms”, the bitterness he carries, the near sociopathic; Sheen plays the part with the sheer precision and uppermost respect towards the late Clough (who remains the most successful English manager in history). This praise cannot be limited to the brilliant Sheen, as the exact same can be said for Meaney and Spall – these two deliver wonderful performances with the same pin-point accuracy as Sheen does with Clough. The performances in this film are inspiring.
Set from 1968 to 1974, the film follows Brian Clough through his successful stint as manager of Derby County. He, along with assistant manager and good friend Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), become the most successful partnership in English football history. Clough takes over as manager of Leeds United as his predecessor - and bitter rival, Don Revie (Colm Meaney) - leaves to become the manager of the English national team. Clough struggles to control a team of players that are still very much loyal to Revie, one of the many factors that result in Clough’s doomed 44 days as manager of Leeds United.
The most alert of readers may have noticed that I used inverted commas when describing this film as a ‘football film’ – The film shows very little football and when faced with an opportunity to show any on-field action, the director tends to opts otherwise. The outcome of pinnacle football matches are presented to the audience with a cue card delivering the outcome of the match. In one very memorable scene – one that saw Clough’s Derby County take on Don Revie’s Leeds United – Clough cannot bring himself to watch the game, as he sits in an office (drinking and smoking) as he listens to the roars of the crowd. The scene is beautifully constructed and goes to show that this film would rather be looked upon as a piece of drama, and not necessarily a sports film. It is almost like “The Damned United” goes out of its way to avoid an easy description.
Director Tom Hooper clearly has a keen eye for detail and this film flourishes aesthetically. Hooper inspiringly captures the essence of the industrial and deprived north in the late 1960’s and 70’s, using locations in Yorkshire and Leeds to achieve his vision. Hooper’s keen aesthetic eye is exemplified with the used of various types of cameras used throughout the production. Additionally, Hooper also impresses with interweaving actual archive footage of football matches, footage of key figures and opinions on the impact Clough had on the game and sport in general (including one very entertaining scene where Clough and his family watch the television and witness the great Muhammad Ali giving his opinions on Clough, which is met with the uppermost flattery). As this film is obviously based on real events, the film’s artificiality is somewhat disguised with this interesting merging of footage.
Sheen is arguably one of the finest actors to come out of the UK and “The Damned United” could be regarded as his finest character to date. Tom Hooper has made a visually stunning piece of art that is bound to captivate the sports fan in all of us. “The Damned United” is a truly excellent documentation of not just Brian Clough or Leeds United A.F.C, but to football during this excited period and the relationships between key figures. With this being said, it’s up for debate whether this could indeed be labelled a ‘sports film’.
THE DAMN UNITED