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The Damned United
Footballing movies have not had the most success on the big screen or even the small screen for that matter; I’d be surprised if there was anybody saddened by the loss of Dream Team. A reoccurring problem with the sporting movie is the repetitiveness and therefore the predictability. Bunch of nobody failures vs. arch enemy invincible champions, then comes inspiration, the failures are now world beaters and eventually win by the skin of their teeth against their evil opponents.
The Damned United, based upon the novel by David Peace, takes a very different look. The late Brian Clough, as portrayed by Michael Sheen, is viewed as the overnight managerial success of Derby County. But the film chooses not to focus on the success of Clough, as the title indicates, the story is of the forty-four day run as the damned manager of Leeds United.
Don Revie, as played by Colm Meaney (Meaney by name, meanie by nature) is the former manager of Leeds United and Brian Clough has big shoes to fill by being appointed manager of the then great Leeds United.
The amount of football played during the 97 minutes screen time is next to none, and that’s with no pun intended about the style of football in which Leeds play. By doing so, it seems director, Tom Hooper, is trying to avoid one of the deliberate pitfalls of the unsuccessful football flick. So there’s no protagonist with a spare thirty seconds alongside a stationary ball in which they must make their decision of whether to pass or shoot. Sorry about that.
The biggest problem for the purist is that Michael Sheen just doesn’t look like Clough. Yes, you can argue that is hardly his fault, but Peter Morgan the writer of Frost/Nixon and The Queen again sees Sheen in a starring role but perhaps, on this occasion, the wrong choice. Sheen doesn’t portray Clough spectacularly badly it’s just very difficult to imagine him as a football manager when he looks some much like Tony Blair.
Fortunately, the movie isn’t a succession of bad moments from Clough’s time at Leeds as we are frequently flashed back to the Derby County days. So all in all, it’s a good movie within a genre where the bar hasn’t been set very high.
Director: Tom Hooper; Writers: (screenplay) David Morgan, (novel) David Peace; Cast: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney and Jim Broadbent