Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Sony Pictures
Now Showing Exclusive to Dendy Opera Quays

The best sports films are those that are about more than the sport in question. Soccer, sorry, football is the sport in question in The Damned United but it is not the main game. That would be Brian Clough and the wonderful performance by Michael Sheen.

It matters not if you know nothing of 1970s English football, of Clough, or of his doomed 44-day tenure as manager of Leeds Utd, then England's best club side. That's because The Damned United, written by Peter Morgan (who also penned The Queen and Frost/Nixon, both of which starred Sheen) and directed by first time feature director Tom Hooper (he directed the award-winning miniseries John Adams), is more concerned with Clough the man.

As played by Sheen, he is a self-confident, cocky son-of-a-bitch who knows how to hold a grudge. Believing he was snubbed by Leeds Utd manager, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), at a club game with Derby in 1968, Clough seems to make it his mission to make Revie pay. When the manager's position at Leeds becomes available in 1974, following Revie's becoming England's manager, Clough assumes the Leeds post and sets about removing all traces of Revie. He doesn't endear himself to his new team, when on the first day of training he denounces all their achievements of the past years as the spoils of cheating. He's immediately on borrowed time.

The film continually flashes back to 1968 and the fallout from that alleged snubbing, but it also reveals Clough's strong working relationship with assistant manager Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), as well as Clough's constant run-ins with Derby club chairman Sam Longson (Jim Broadbent); Clough repeatedly buys players the club does not have the funds for, all in his quest to beat Leeds and Revie.

Regardless of your knowledge of, or love for football, The Damned United is worth seeing for the performances alone. Spall, Broadbent and Meaney are all good but the film belongs to Sheen. After strong performances in The Queen and Frost/Nixon, he again proves more than adept at getting under the skin of historical figures. It's not a flattering portrait of the man, but as with a top footballer, arrogance can often be overlooked in the face of brilliance.

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