A few years ago I read The Damned United and found it a fascinating read. Written by David Peace, it gave an account of the bizarre 44 days that football manager Brian Clough spent trying to run Leeds United, a team he had no affection for. The main attraction for Clough was the chance to step in after the departure of his biggest rival, beloved manager Don Revie (who was picked to manage the England squad). What happened next was bitter, bizarre, often childish and petulant and a startling chapter in the history of English football. The book was so enjoyable because it wasn’t really about football. It was about the psychology of a man as inwardly insecure as he was outwardly arrogant, a man who was as in love with “the beautiful game” as he was with his own hype. Brian Clough.
The movie is almost as enjoyable as the book because it also concentrates on the mind of the man as opposed to the ins and outs of football (although the football, inevitably, plays a large part in the proceedings). It can never be as in-depth as the book was but it does a great job, overall.
A large part of the success of the movie is due to the leading man, Michael Sheen AKA the guy who seems to want to play everyone who ever lived ever. Sheen is superb (is he ever anything else?) and the whole film revolves around his forceful personality. He’s ably supported though – Timothy Spall is excellent as Peter Taylor, Jim Broadbent is another dependable figure and always a joy to watch, Colm Meaney casts quite a large shadow as Don Revie and then there are people like Stephen Graham, Martin Compston and Brian McCardie portraying a variety of famous footballers from the time.
Tom Hooper does a great job in the director’s chair (though he would get even better with his next movie, The King’s Speech) and the screenplay by Peter Morgan nicely translates the core of the book while keeping things paced just perfectly and balancing the darker moments with plenty of little lines and exchanges that will keep audiences pleased.
Many people say that a boxing match is won or lost before either fighter steps into the ring. The psychology is the most important factor. After watching The Damned United you can’t help but think football matches may be won or lost in the same manner. Good relationships are required while politics are played out, with players and with fans and with the money men up top, but confidence and passion are just as important. Brian Clough may have had too much of both of these things but when he had the backing of those around him he got results and the movie certainly makes sure that people remember that. He was a foolish, blinded, obstinate man. But he was also a British football manager who aimed for nothing less than the top spot and the accompanying prestige.
DIRECTOR: TOM HOOPER
WRITER: PETER MORGAN (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY DAVID PEACE)
STARS: MICHAEL SHEEN, TIMOTHY SPALL, COLM MEANEY, JIM BROADBENT, STEPHEN GRAHAM
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX