Peter Morgan (Writer of The Queen and Frost/Nixon) reunites for the third time with Michael Sheen (lead actor of The Queen and Frost/Nixon). Michael Sheen can tick off another box on his list of his portrayals of iconic Englishmen as his witty performance is a key reason for what makes The Damned United a joy to watch–the versatility with which he plays this role, having watched him be David Frost and Tony Blair is a tribute to his acting–he may have a generic look, but his attention to the details of voice inflections and mannerisms is stellar.
The film follows two different stories, switching frequently from Brian Clough’s miraculous time at Derby County and his disappointing and shambolic time at Derby’s then rivals Leeds United. It is important to pay attnetion to the titles that announce a variance in the year, so as to see where we are in time. The film doesn’t get involved in Clough’s personal life (which may well have been in a shambles–while he has a wife in Derby, she seems pretty preoccupied with the seperation of work an dhome life, which seemed unrealistic at best–when Clough takes off for Leeds, he has two boys in tow but no wife in sight).
The story focuses on his career with both clubs, starting off with Clough viewed firstly as a small-time 2nd Division manager to a arrogant manager on top of the Division 1, another key issue is his close friendship with his assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) and hatred of the man who preceded him as Leeds boss, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). While at Leeds the key points of focus is Clough’s determination to replace Don Revie as a hero in Leeds and ‘father figure’ as well his poor relationship with the players and the end to his arrogance. The flaw of arrogance is fleshed out and then exhonerated in the film. Clough spends 44 days as the coach of Leeds United (the film doesn’t show why he has such intense hatred for the club, which would have gone a long way to explaining why he wanted the job, and how he approached it). When that fails, he goes crawling back to Brighton and Peter Taylor, who takes him back after a bit of a tongue lashing, and the two go on to do brilliantly. Not so for the hated Don Revie.
The film is wonderful–not just appealin got soccer fans, but to those who like a story with nuance.