DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Damned United

Saturday 6 March 2010

The Damned United

The Damned United (2009)
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent


Guest review by Blair Stewart

"Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that paticular job"

Brian Clough was known in England as Old Big 'Ead, which helps explain the above quote attributed to him. Called 'the greatest football manager the English team never had', the well-quiffed and loquatious Clough became a folk-hero for his ability to take smaller teams to the heights of success in the European leagues. In between his hard-fought victories of the Premiership with little Derby County FC in 1972 and taking tiny Nottingham Forrest's squad to two European cup championships in the late 70's, Clough would tackle an impossible role, coaching his arch-rivals Leeds for a volatile 44 days. "The Damned United" is the story of those volatile days and its fallout after Clough got the boot.

Starting with his modest beginnings as manager for Derby, "The Damned United" shows the hubrus and pride involved when Brian (Michael Steen) eventually agrees to run his old enemy Don Revie's (Colm Meaney) Leeds squad after Clough burns bridges with his old employers in a contract dispute. For the first time, Brian must venture into unknown water without his canny assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), who's scouting has played a major part in their previous wins. On top of those odds, Leeds' reputation for dirty play goes against Clough's very being, and the Leeds players, fans and chairmen also happen to despise him. Years earlier, we see the reason for Clough's suicide mission, when a rude visit from Revie's Leeds to Clough's Derby leaves a wound that festers.

Using a uptempo storytelling style reminiscent of Danny Boyle, director Tom Hooper and writer Peter Morgan of "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon" acclaim bobs and weaves through Clough's history, gracefully zipping over his alcoholism and final bitter fallout with Taylor. To overcome budget restraints, most of the football action is archival footage of Derby games, and thrillingly so at that, with occasional stiff re-enactments while Sheen paces the sidelines.

After his uncanny Tony Blair and David Frost, Michael Sheen once again successfully embodies an iconic Brit in a time of conflict, with Colm Meaney his foil as a glowering Levie. Timothy Spall is an excellent actor from his work with Mike Leigh, but here he just seems an ill fit as a lifelong football man, I could never shake the impression I was just watching an actor and not the character.

Clough and Taylor's working relationship is presented as a platonic 'bromance' akin to recent Apatow comedies and as paramount to Clough overcoming his shortcomings in the last act towards future glory.

As far as sportsmovies go, "The Damned United" despite a few minor quibbles is worth a look for Sheen's funny and near tragic character and the rare thrill of a well-made football story. Enjoy.

Unfortunately "The Damned United" is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Picture Home Entertainment.

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