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Movie Review: The Damned United


I was sitting in a plush screening room at the Sony Pictures Lot in Culver City, CA – just a short walk down the hallway to anything and everything Spider-Man (hell, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst may have been on premises for all I know – the studio lot was so infested with Spider-Man promos) but when The Damned United kicked-off I was no longer in warm Los Angeles.

The movie begins in rainy, dark, windy Leeds. 1970s England. A far cry from a plush LA screening room in 2009. Don Revie’s Leeds United are top of England – in the midst of a glorious run and Elland Road is filled to capacity.

But it’s not what transpires on the pitch that’s really important here.

This isn’t just a football movie. In fact, the game scenes are rare. Director Tom Hooper’s brilliant adaptation of David Pearce’s novel is a character study, a drama, and a dark comedy rolled into one – it just happens to be set within the brilliant and dramatic English First Division of football.

Michael Sheen (of Frost/Nixon and The Queen fame) stars as Brian Clough, the larger than life cocky, witty motor mouth who succeeds Revie at Leeds. Revie has moved on to the England job. A big promotion, that. And there you have it. The stage is set. Clough has some pretty big boots to fill – quite similar in fact to the modern day Jose Mourinho / Avram Grant scenario that played out at Stamford Bridge just 2 years ago.

And Clough is certainly a fascinating man – a man of extremes – contradictory, outspoken, extraordinary. Sheen is the show-stealer – putting together as brilliant of a performance as Arshavin did last year when he hit for four goals at Anfield. Sheen is that good.

Through a combination of flash-backs and flash-forwards (Hartlepool – Derby County – Leeds) the audience is treated to the gritty, beautiful footballing landscape of the ‘60s and ‘70s in England – where players smoked cigarettes in the dressing room, and two footed tackles in training were the norm, not the exception to the rule.

The film succeeds because it is able to traverse the precarious tightrope between being just a “brilliant football film” and an actual “brilliant film” and so it will be loved by not only football addicts but by those who appreciate a great piece of art. This is the type of film you can take your wife/girlfriend/significant other too, it’s just that universal.

Clough’s relationship with his Assistant Manger and best friend Peter Taylor (played by Timothy Spall) is perhaps a perfect example of the film’s success on a non-football level. The relationship is an emotional rollercoaster and the best examination of a working relationship and close friendship I can remember seeing on film.

Clough is opinionated, charming, almost heroic. This movie makes me believe that he is the greatest British manager of all time who never managed the national team.

The Damned United is a must see film- for any football fan, and any lover of true drama, heartbreak, and larger than life characters.

I would give the film a rating of four soccer balls out of five, a Champions League contender if there ever was one. Basically – the equivalent of Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980. Legendary.

Thanks to Ibracadabra of Never Captain Nicky Butt for the review.

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  1. Karris

    July 9, 2010 at 9:20 am

    It may have been an ok made film, but it was an absolute mockery of the facts. The actor playing Brian was a terrible impersonator, he turned Clough into a Welsh Mr.Brittass (I only found out afterwards that the actor is actually Welsh.) There is a problem with trying to get an actor to impersonate someone, but this bloke couldn’t even get the accent right.
    The majority of events portrayed never actually happened or were all over the place. “Peter Taylor had a heart attack, we’ll stick it in the bit when Brian resigns.” He had a heart scare in 1981 and neither of them were at Derby at the time. The film also makes out that Brian went to Leeds days after agreeing to the Brighton job, when this happened long after. Peter and Brian didn’t argue over the Leeds job, Peter agreed to go originally and later pulled out, the bitter row came years later at Forest after Peter had returned to manage Derby alone.
    Even the matches in the film were wrong. Derby didn’t play Leeds prior to the European semi final and the there was no mention of his players bein injured by Leeds players. They lost the semi final due to (an alleged) corrupt referee that Brian was very vocal about after the game. The FA Cup game which supposedly starts off the whole rivalry with Don Revie wasn’t at the Baseball ground so none of that actually happened. The game with Luton was a draw not a loss. The players were all wrong, the seasons out of whack and the results made-up. Brian certainly never sat in his office during a match or smoked and he never drank infront of his players, the drinking really only becasme an issue years later, after Leeds.
    I do understand poetic licence but this was just taking the micky. How on earth they got away with it amazes me. Why on earth make a film about a specific (fairly recent in historical terms) event and then make it up as you go along. This film should never have been made. Very lazy researching, poor casting and poorly made. Wrong on so many counts.

  2. NFFC

    October 5, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Shame it’s a work of fiction. The film is dreadful, a spiteful piece of dross from the spitefully bitter little author that is David Pearce.

    • The Gaffer

      October 5, 2009 at 9:32 am

      Personally, I really enjoyed the book but I haven’t had a chance to watch the film yet.

      The Gaffer

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