Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Damned United - Review


Brian Clough eh?  Genius and maverick, no one else like him etc.  The Damned United tells the story of his brief stint as manager at Leeds United following his successful spell at Derby County where he won the league.  Leeds were, at the time, the biggest side in the English top flight, played great football but had a reputation for being dirty arrogant and ruthless in their approach to the game.  Could Clough make them play the beautiful game the beautiful way?

The film dovetails between the story of Derby's rise under Clough in the late 1960s and early 70s and his spell at Leeds as he tries to replace Don Revie who's shadow Clough can not escape.  Michael Sheen's performance as Clough is mesmerising.  It's not so much an impression of the great man, more an embodiment.  The voice and the characteristic mannerisms are all nailed to perfection, at times it's like watching a documentary.

Even if you know nothing of Clough and care little about football there's much to love here as Clough tries and fails to get the Leeds players to accept him and erodes his relationship with Peter Taylor his number two at Derby and previous club Hartlepool United.  He was such a bright, charming and persuasive man but his remarks in the press about the Leeds players being cheats did little to help his chances with those long established players and after only 44 days in charge he was sacked.

The book, from which the story is taken, The Damned Utd was heavily criticised by the Clough family and Johnny Giles (the former Leeds player) successfully sued the publishers, but the film portrays Clough the football man, not dwelling on any relationship apart from the one he had with Peter Taylor.  

The story gets compressed, the year long spell at Brighton and Hove Albion is skirted over, made to look like it didn't happen at all and the six years at Derby feel like two, maybe three seasons.  It is fiction based on fact but the character of Clough permeates the film, Sheen delivers a thoroughly believable, almost rounded figure that you can't help but warm too despite the arrogance.  And that's exactly how we felt about Clough the football manager out in the real world.  Uncompromising in his belief that football should be played the 'beautiful way' and that the game should be run by those that understood it, not the money hungry chairmen.

The Damned United is the best movie ever made about football, wonderfully evoking the sport of the 1970s, which feels a world away from the hype and commercialisation of the modern game.