Film review – The Damned United (2009)

Brian Clough (Michael Sheen)
Brian Clough (Michael Sheen)

Brian Clough was a larger than life English football personality whose successes have resulted in him being considered one of the greatest ever football managers. Loosely adapted from the novel The Damned Utd by David Pearce (who also wrote the novels that the Red Riding trilogy were based on), this biographic film focuses on Clough’s first major success managing Derby County from 1967 to 1973 and then his ill-fated stint managing Leeds United in 1974. Adapted for the screen by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon), The Damned United depicts Clough’s long running rivalry with Don Revie, the man who successfully managed Leeds United from 1961 to 1974, to be a leading motivation behind why he managed both teams in the extraverted way that he did.

You don’t have to be a football fan or even a big sports fan to enjoy The Damned United. The grand narrative that is Clough’s rise and fall is compelling regardless of the context and his story even takes on elements of classical Greek tragedy, especially considering it is his incredible hubris that brings about his own undoing. There is also a very sweet friendship at the heart of The Damned United and the relationship between Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor is classic bromance material.

DUNITED_Intl_TDU_00009_scaledClough is played by Michael Sheen and after his incredible work in The Queen and Frost/Nixon, Sheen has yet again distinguished himself as an actor who is highly talented in portraying real life personalities. Much of the pleasure to be had in The Damned United is watching Sheen channel Clough’s extraordinary charm, confidence and arrogance. Timothy Spall provides a wonderful contrast to Clough’s exuberance as Peter Taylor and the overall excellent cast includes Colm Meaney as Don Revie and Jim Broadbent as Derby Chairman Sam Longson, whom Clough had several run-ins with.

The Damned United is directed by Tom Hooper who aside from directing Red Dust (2004) has worked in television, which is not a huge surprise given that there is nothing particularly cinematic about The Damned United. However, The Damned United is acted extremely well and contains a compelling story that will keep you interested right up to the end. This is a good drama about a man whose strange mix of good intentions, petty rivalry and obnoxious behaviour makes for fascinating viewing.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. Perceptive review for a non-footie loving Aussie!

    The Damned United is so much lighter than David Peace’s other dramatised work – the Red Riding Quartet. Don’t know if has been on TV over there, but it is darkly paranoid capturing the claustrophobia and menace of the era. The books are terrific too.

  2. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s a great character driven movie that just happens to be about Football.

    Drama, tension, humor and fuzzy feelings are all there. I loved the intro showing the ‘old’ game too – looked more like rugby than football.

  3. Hi indieanorak

    I have to admit that after seeing The Damned United I sort of wished I was an English football fan because I do feel like I’ve missed out!

    The Red Riding films haven’t been shown on Australian TV to the best of my knowledge but they have been recently released as a DVD box set. I was lucky enough to catch them on the big screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival and I wrote a brief review of them here. As you can see, I loved them although they’ve put me off the north of England for life!

  4. Fantastic little film Thomas, and just have to add that I’m in awe of Michael Sheen after seeing this. Couldn’t take my eyes off him; he had me riveted the entire time.

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