Friday, 24 April 2009

The Damned Utd - Review

Due to the complete ineptitude of Belfast's cinemas not securing new films on their actual release date, this review comes slightly late. Peter Morgan has been a busy bee these last few years successfully scripting works of literature and theatre into fascinating cinematic experiences. With such works as the Oscar winning The Last King Of Scotland and The Queen to 2009's Oscar nominated Frost/Nixon under his writing CV, it's fair to say he has a pretty decent track record. The latest of this line is David Peace's 2006 controversial novel The Damned United, a half biographical/half fictional tale about one of the most successful managers to ever grace English football, the legendary Brian Clough, starring the only possible man to take on the job, to accurately mimic him, Michael Sheen (also seen as Tony Blair, David Frost, H.G. Wells, Kenneth Williams amongst others). The story itself charts Clough's infamous 44 days in charge of Leeds United F.C. as he tries and fails to impose his will on a team he inherited from his bitter rival, Don Revie and whose players are still loyal to their old manager. Interspersed are flashbacks to his more successful days as manager of Derby County.

Being an avid football fan myself, I was drawn to this film instantly and what was on display is sure to please anyone who is a fan of the sport, harking back to a time when English footballers were not so much athletes as real men. This is not meant to be a dig at the current crop who populate modern football teams, but this was truly a different generation of players who would sooner break a player rather than perform dashing tricks and demonstrate their superior pace, this is displayed to great effect when Clough himself, awaiting the glamour tie of facing Leeds Utd in the FA Cup for the first time, setting out ashtrays beside the players' half time oranges. One of my main loves of the film however is the chemistry displayed between Clough and his long time assistant Peter Taylor (played by the consistently brilliant Timothy Spall), best friends as well as colleagues, both essential to each other's success similar to Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice of Arsenal or Jose Mourinho and Steve Clarke at Chelsea as well as Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd/Steve McClaren/Carlos Quiroz during the current supremacy of Manchester United. The entire support cast consisted of some of the hardest working actors found in British cinema at the minute, Jim Broadbent does a terrific job as the chairman of Derby County, Sam Longson as does Colm Meany (good to see him shed his Star Trek roots and shine as an actor) as Clough's nemesis Revie. Actually (sorry to digress) one scene in this movie is like for like similar to a scene in Sheen's previous film Frost/Nixon where Frost receives a phone call from a drunk Richard Nixon, however in this case its Revie who receives the phone call from a drunk Clough (one of the film's few references to his alcoholism, which is explored to great lengths in the book).

The film however is not without it's flaws, though its portrayal of Clough was actually pretty well recieved, it would be fair to stay it isn't a true adaptation of the book, where Peace went to great lengths to demonstrate Clough's paranoid intensity and alcoholism the film opts to show off his brash arrogance and frank demeanour which can be seen in a million and one archive television interviews of the man which in all honesty I found a little bit of a kop out on Morgan's behalf, also how hard would it have been to stay historically accurate to real life events? Seriously?! All that said however, Sheen's performance was almighty and once again demonstrates how much of a powerhouse in modern British cinema he actually is. He wasn't merely playing Clough, he was Clough. To round up The Damned United is a film that is as dramatic as it is light hearted and should be taken very much with a pinch of salt in terms of historical events however that doesn't take away from how much fun it should be for football fans as well as film fans. And whatever happened to Clough in his 44 days at Leeds, he should be looking down at them from beyond in their current situation with that famous cheeky smile. Best football movie ever? Until the upcoming 2009 film Searching For Eric, quite possibly.


See this if you liked...
Sheen's performances in The Queen and Frost/Nixon.

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