The Damned United Review
Brian Clough... now that is a name that rings a bell and triggers many a memory! Even if you grew up not quite knowing who he was you'd have probably still heard of the name. His reputation in football was one that was always destined to outlive the man himself.
Football is not called the beautiful game for nothing. It also wouldn't be half as entertaining without all the colourful characters that have made it so over the course of time. Go back about 35 years and Clough was certainly one of those.
The Damned United is simply a film about him and his 44 day tenure as manager of Leeds United Football Club back in 1974.
Tom Hooper directs the movie and enlists the help of Peter Morgan to script the onscreen adaptation of David Peace's book of the same name. Having also done wonders with Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan set about writing a fluent football screenplay. Whilst the film never sets out to be a biopic or the definitive story about the man, it does lend itself into becoming a fairly fast moving and fluid film otherwise.
Football in the late sixties and seventies was a different game to what it is now. It was a game for the masses but its roots were very much with the working classes. It was also a far more tougher game and the sort of tackling that went on back then would simply not be allowed now. Some of what went on was truly shocking stuff.
Those that remember the game as it was will just love this film. Aside from the on pitch action everything that surrounded the game was also quite different as well. The media intrusion and paparazzi frenzy for example was far removed from what goes on today.
The 'Mighty Leeds' were a hugely successful league club at the time. They had been managed by Don Revie (Colm Meaney) who had built them into a formidable team over thirteen years. Their brand of football was notoriously physical but it set the tone of the times and it brought them much success on the pitch. On the other hand the style in which they played never won them the same adulation from onlookers.
When Don Revie was made into the new England manager his successor at Leeds had some seriously big boots to fill. Well, there was none other that fitted this bill than good old big 'ead himself, Brian Clough. You either liked this guy admiring him for what he had achieved with Derby County or you just loathed him with a passion.
The Damned United starts off with Brian Clough being appointed as the new manager of Leeds United in 1974. Michael Sheen is simply brilliant. Once again he immerses himself as the main character of a film with aplomb. He did it as Tony Blair, he did it as David Frost and he's done it again here as Brian Clough. You'll soon get a flavour of what this film is all about. From the moment he reads the riot act to the Leeds board in the opening scenes you appreciate that this guy totally understood what it took to be Brian Clough.
The relationship between a passionate football manager and the men who run the club has always been intriguing at best. Here you'll appreciate the antagonistic harmony that goes on behind the scenes in the running of a football club.
On face value this film is an entertaining watch in its own right but Morgan's script tries to delve a little deeper. What you get here is an equal measure of the friction and the battles that go on in the boardroom and how the equilibrium of the power struggles comes to be on the pitch.
From his rudely dismissive approach to Derby Chairman Sam Longson (Jim Broadbent) to the disrespectful approach he had to the Leeds Board of Directors, Clough was a guy who was never shy in coming forward in telling it how it was.
The passions enthused in the chairman or directors confrontations were probably exactly as it happens here and contribute to some of the more memorable moments of the film. Clough's spats with Sam Longson are demonstrable of that. One thing is for sure, they're all in it for personal gain and to massage their inflated egos.
This is football after all and in the end it's always about winning. If it all goes wrong then it's always the manager who's the first to go. Clough was a man who knew this well enough and for all his bravado he remained a vulnerable guy. Michael Sheen is terrific in displaying some of his insecurities.
In many ways if you look back at the way football's media circus has progressed over the years then Brian Clough was probably the first manager to be integrally involved in shaping this. He was one of the first managers who embraced the media and understood the value of manipulating it for his purpose. Not only was he blessed with a great football mind he was also never short of a word or two to say.
The movie constantly flits between Clough at Leeds and his early managerial career with Derby County. This works really well as that was the backdrop that underpinned his career. The choppy nature also adds a zippy and zestful feel to proceedings and it brings back the football fever of yesteryear.
Taking a lowly Division Two side in 1967 and making them into Division One Champions by 1972 was no mean feat. I guess he had a right to be arrogant. Quite rightfully he was soon seen as one of the brightest managerial prospects of that era; Clough was a man possessed.
Ultimately his turned out to be an outstanding managerial career but given the manner he went about it, you can see from this film why he never got the England job. He hated Don Revie with a passion and he hated the football Leeds played. Fuelled by this obsession Clough flew in the face of the then widely accepted protocols. He quite probably frightened the living daylights out of the England establishment for them to even seriously consider him.
Michael Sheen takes centre stage in all that he does here and those of you that knew of the real man will be staggered at how realistic this guy plays him. The mannerisms, the verbal outbursts, the arrogance exuded is all spot on. However it was never a one man show in real life. As in his managerial career he was partnered by Peter Taylor, he is done so onscreen by Timothy Spall playing the same part.
Many have said that Clough was nothing without Taylor and what you have on show here is a display of that. The relationship between the two men is portrayed as a difficult one but one where both also realise that they work at their best together. Although you do get a sense of Peter Taylor's subservience you also get to feel the mutual admiration and respect that they had for each other. It feels very much like a marriage of sorts with their football trials and tribulations on show for all to see.
The Damned United is a great film. If you love football then you'll want to give this one a watch. Not only do you get an insight at one of the greatest club managers this country has ever seen but you get to see one of the best football films for many a year. It's multi-faceted and there's enough here to take it on face value or glean from it what you will.
Even if you don't like football this is still a terrific film and a thoroughly entertaining watch. The film tags Brian Clough as the finest manager that the England football team never had. Don't make the same mistake and pass this one by.