THE DAMNED UNITED (Tom Hooper, 2009)
Screenwriter and playwright Peter Morgan has become the go-to guy in British film for retelling fascinating fact-based stories. In the past few years he has written or cowritten THE QUEEN, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, and FROST/NIXON. Although he writes sharp, biting dialogue, he also makes a lot of it up to propel the narrative, creating scenes and conversations that might or might not have actually happened. After attending an advance screening of his latest film, THE DAMNED UNITED, set in the world of British football (soccer) between 1969 and 1974, we took the elevator down with an American who had lived in England at the time and was a huge sports fan. When we asked him how accurate the film seemed to him, he looked at us with a happy grin and told us, “It’s all true.”
Directed by Tom Hooper (JOHN ADAMS, LONGFORD), THE DAMNED UNITED follows the exploits of frightfully ambitious football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), who coaches low-level Derby County but is determined to take over Leeds United, the champions whom he believes win because of their aggressively dirty and illegal style of play. The strongly opinionated Clough, who seems to get into some kind of trouble with someone every time he opens his mouth, is accompanied on his journey by his trusted sidekick, Peter Taylor (the incomparable Timothy Spall), who tries his best to keep the younger, brash Clough in check, with only limited success. Despite his admirable triumph with Derby, Clough has his sights set on a very personal goal – replacing legendary Leeds manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney) and topping his achievements.
Based on the novel by David Peace, THE DAMNED UNITED is much more than just a sports movie, and you don’t need to know (or like) anything about soccer to get sucked into its charm. At its heart, it’s a rather tender love story between Clough and Taylor (who kiss and hug numerous times in the film, though not necessarily romantically), with trouble perpetually on the horizon in the form of Revie. The three leads are absolutely extraordinary, showing off a whirlwind of acting chops, along with Jim Broadbent, who plays the cigar-chomping owner of Derby County who is in constant battles with Clough. Sheen, who has been so effective bringing to life such real-life figures as Tony Blair, David Frost, H. G. Wells, and even Nero, once again stands out from the crowd, capturing the heart and soul of the blindly driven Clough.