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The Damned United

Michael Sheen in The Damned United

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD & BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with Director Tom Hooper, Michael Sheen and Producer Andy Harries; Deleted Scenes; Deleted Scenes Commentary with Director Tom Hooper; Featurette – Pitch Perfect: The Making of The Damned United; Featurette – Creating Clough: Michael Sheen Takes on Ol’ Big ‘Ead; Featurette – Remembering Brian: Friends and Players Reminisce; Featurette – The Changing Game: Football in the Seventies.

TOM Hooper’s The Damned United is very much a film of two halves. The first offers a searing portrait of one of football’s most enigmatic characters, brilliantly delivered by an actor at the top of his game.

The second offers an intriguing look at the dangers of rivalry and obsession and its impact upon friendship and talent.

Put together, the components make for gripping viewing and a film that – crucially – transcends the limitations of its football theme. Rather than being a sports movie for the die-hard terrace fans only, it’s a people story that can be enjoyed on many levels.

Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by David Peace, The Damned United examines Brian Clough’s disastrous 44-day period in charge of Leeds United, the then champions of England.

It cuts back and forth between Clough’s Leeds reign and his path towards Elland Road, as the hugely successful manager of Derby County. And it explores his intense and damn-near destructive rivalry with his Leeds predecessor Don Revie as well as his passionate relationship with assistant manager and friend Peter Taylor.

The Damned United impresses and entertains on many levels, not least of which is the way that it doesn’t fall foul of non-football fans.

Rather, by limiting the football sequences to just a few and concentrating on the people and personalities, it takes the form of a witty, charismatic and consistently entertaining character story that should score highly with anyone who sees it.

Clough’s personality is such that his charisma and volatility transcend the game. Michael Sheen captures his spirit perfectly… turning in another brilliant performance to match his recent work as Tony Blair in The Queen and David Frost in Frost/Nixon.

He is an electrifying central character – flamboyant, outrageous, courageous and self-destructive. Sheen taps into both the light and the dark that infested Clough’s personality, making him a more likeable individual than the figure that emerges from Peace’s source text. It’s a rounded portrayal… mindful of the tragic figure that Clough became, yet fully focused on the early energy that guided him to such success (both pre and post Leeds).

And he’s more than matched by an excellent ensemble cast, with Timothy Spall typically solid as Taylor; Jim Broadbent wonderfully old-school and beligerent as Derby’s tight-fisted owner, and Colm Meaney suitably arrogant as Clough’s nemesis, Revie.

Hooper, too, deserves credit for capturing the essence of the era and for the way in which he mixes real footage with vivid recreations of the key moments in Clough’s history. He also ensures that his film maintains a nice energy throughout.

Some may feel that The Damned United is a little too rose-tinted and not nearly as biting as Peace’s source text, while Leeds fans just might feel a little sore at the one-dimensional portrayal of some of the Leeds players.

But in most respects, this is a rounded exploration of the complex emotions that governed Clough’s Leeds tenure. It achieves its goals with plenty to spare and deserves to score highly at the UK box office.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 97mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 31, 2009