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The Damned United

May 29, 2017

The Damned United (2009)
Director: Tom Hooper
Actors: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney

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Synopsis: The ill-fated 44-day tenure of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) as manager of Leeds United.

Review: The Damned United is a populist – at times, almost cartoonish – attempt to make comprehensible the characters and story behind Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44-day tenure at Leeds United. Getting Peter Morgan on board to sanitise and condense David Peace’s source novel was a safe choice, and his prime tactic of having a framing device to depict Clough’s instantaneous unravelling at Leeds against the origin of his ascendancy at Derby County (but also his enmity with Leeds manager Don Revie) is predictable but almost too glib.

Also hampering the film is not the performances as such (Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney all acquit themselves admirably inhabiting well-known figures), but the way the games of football themselves are portrayed. The actors playing the Leeds footballers look nothing like professional athletes, and I can’t help but wonder if the film might have been better off paying to have archive footage for all the games rather than ropily trying to recreate short excerpts.

The film is also tangibly feeling for an ending of significance by the close, so a dramatically rote – if biographically true – reunion between Clough and his estranged assistant, Peter Taylor, is about all Morgan can muster. Something tells me that a story about Clough’s later, unlikely triumph at Nottingham Forest might have made the more interesting story. (May 2017)

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