DAMNED UNITED, THE
It is 1974 when Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) begins his doomed 44 day tenure as manager of the reigning champions of English football, Leeds United. The club was previously managed by his bitter rival Don Revie (Colm Meaney) and Leeds was perceived by many to represent a new aggressive and cynical style of football. Clough, together with his scouting partner Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) achieved great success as manager of Hartlepool and Derby County in the 60s and early 70s, building teams in his own vision. But in Leeds, the boys were still 'Don's boys' and Clough no longer had Taylor by his side.
Review by Louise Keller:
Soccer aficionados and anyone interested in this period of English soccer will be drawn to this character-driven story about sporting ambition. Based on the acclaimed 2006 novel by David Pearce, there is plenty to interest the punters. Much of the film concentrates on the bitter rivalry between Michael Sheen's cocky and complex uber-manager Brian Clough and Colm Meaney's belligerent Don Revie. Theirs is a clash of styles. But the jumps in time confuse, and despite wonderful performances, we are not emotionally connected. Unlike Frost / Nixon, in which scriptwriter Peter Morgan gave us an insight into the men behind the faces, facts and events monopolise the proceedings; but as entertainment, the film lacks general appeal.
The scene is set at the beginning of the film, when we meet Sheen's Brian Clough singing along to Tom Jones' What's New Pussycat, as he drives along the bleak, rainy Yorkshire landscape, his two young sons in the backseat. His destination is Leeds, the home of football champions Leeds United. But this is not just an ordinary post the arrogant, self-assured and outspoken Clough is taking. There is more than a touch of irony about his appointment, following his well-publicised feud and bad blood with the club's former manager Don Revie.
We flit back and forth from the 70s to the 60s as we learn the events leading up to the appointment and why the 44 days that ensue are damned. It is the detail that is important to determine the context of Clough's behaviour and his misjudgement of crucial human elements. He may be brilliant when it comes to some things, but judging human behaviour is not one of them. That's why the heart of the film is bound up in Clough's relationship with his invaluable scout-partner Peter Taylor (brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall). Theirs is a partnership of opposites: Clough has too much ambition, while Taylor has not enough.
Director Tom Hooper delivers authenticity of subject matter and place, but much concentration is required to keep abreast of the time shifts, sackings, protests and bluffs. Somehow the film never quite hits its target, despite the elements and the team that delivers them.
Email this article
DAMNED UNITED, THE (M)
CAST: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Henry Goodman, David Roper, Jimmy Reddington, Oliver Stokes, Ryan Day, Michael Sheen, Mark Bazely,
PRODUCER: Andy Harries, Grainne Marmion
DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper
SCRIPT: Peter Morgan (novel by David Peace)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Smithard
EDITOR: Melanie Oliver
MUSIC: Robert Lane
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eve Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: October 8, 2009; Perth November 26, 2009; Sydney: December 3, 2009