The Damned United
- Tom Dawson
- 19 March 2009
David Peace’s justly acclaimed novel The Damned United allowed us to see the world from the tormented perspective of football manager Brian Clough during his 44 turbulent days in charge of Leeds United in 1974. Paranoid, vengeful, fear-ridden, depressive and alcoholic, this Clough emerged as a man in emotional meltdown.
This film version, directed by Tom Hooper (television dramas Longford and John Adams) and scripted by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), and with Michael Sheen in the lead role, is a broadly entertaining if highly sanitised adaptation.
Cutting between Clough’s disastrous experiences at Leeds, having taken over from Don Revie who had accepted the England job, and his earlier success and downfall at Derby County, the screenplay picks out two key relationships. There’s his obsessive loathing of Don Revie (Colm Meaney) and the latter’s cynical gamesmanship: Clough even orders his players at Leeds to chuck their medals in the dustbin, because he claims they’ve been acquired by cheating. And there’s Clough’s emotionally charged partnership with his assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), who significantly doesn’t accompany him to Elland Road.
The filmmakers also stress the importance to Clough of his own mediated image – this at a time when football wasn’t subject to wall-to-wall television coverage – yet The Damned United, clearly made on a restricted budget, might be better suited to small screen viewing. Sheen’s performance embodies the film’s strengths and weaknesses: he looks and sounds like Clough, and he captures the arrogance, loquaciousness, and sharp humour of Old Big Head, but what’s missing is the compelling intensity provided by Peace’s vision.
General release from Fri 27 Mar.