Monday, November 30, 2009
The Damned United
Brian Clough: The greatest manager the England team never had.
Being a football fan is by no means a prerequisite to enjoy Peter Morgan’s brilliant biopic The Damned United. Adapting David Pearce’s novel in what looks to be a fairly generous, even romanticised take on the life and career of Brian Clough, Morgan has reteamed with his Frost/Nixon and The Queen star Michel Sheen. Together the pair absolutely relish in the arrogance, the belligerence and the remarkable ambition of their subject.
Cutting backwards and forwards between 1968 and 1974, The Damned United traverses Clough’s heady rise at Derby County as well as his spectacular fall from grace at Leeds United. It also tracks Clough’s competitive obsession with beloved Leed’s manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney) alongside the fruitful and fractious partnership Clough shared with his assistant manager Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). Morgan seems to flirt with romantic comedy conventions, setting up a quasi-love triangle amidst the politics, money and muddy terrain of premier league football.
The result is a provocative, darkly funny and particularly damning character study of hubris couched in idealism. Sheen’s performance is worth the price of admission alone, however Spall, Meaney and even a grouchy Jim Broadbent also impress, as does the production design, wonderfully framed shots and incisive dialogue.
For all his superciliousness, Clough expounds the model of a football team as a family, an analogy that is clearly evident in the ongoing success of Morgan and Sheen’s filmmaking partnership.