Directed by: Tom Hooper
Screenplay by: Peter Morgan
Cinematography: Ben Smithard
The Damned United is a light and enjoyable British film which tells the story of Brian Clough’s short-lived reign as Leeds United manager in 1974. Adapted from David Pearce’s original novel, Tom Hooper (director of Kings Speech) delivers a film that is both fresh and entertaining. The film tells the story of Brian Clough who along with his longtime friend and colleague Peter Taylor, took flailing football club Derby County from the bottom of the second division to winning the first division in England. Clough then signs as manager for longtime rival club Leeds United but lasts no longer than 44 days before being sacked. I was under the impression the film would focus predominantly on Clough’s tenure as Leeds manager, however that seemed to take only a portion of the brisk 90 odd minute film. Instead the narrative jumps between Clough’s days as Derby manager and his arrival and demise and Leeds. This format of telling the story as well as conveying the context and backstory concurrently was, I thought particularly clever. However it did result in me feeling that I watched Clough’s reign as Derby manager with a little stint as Leeds rather than the 44 days at Leeds with a little bit of context as Derby manager. Having said this, it did not detract from the entertainment value of the film.
Two things throughout the film stood out for me as being very good; the first being the performances and the characters.
Michael Sheen (The Queen and Frost/Nixon) delivered a truly memorable performance as the arrogant and chirpy manager, Brian Clough. Clough started out as the eager and ambitious Derby manager, who in the space of 45 minutes became the arrogant and brazen manager who ranked himself, “within the top 1” managers in the country. As the audience I found myself supporting and sympathising with Clough. However as his attitude became ever more brazen and overly confident, I found myself feeling betrayed as a viewer. I had invested into him as a character yet his arrogance had led to me feeling a lack of sympathy for him after his sacking. This, I believe is a testimony to the performance of Sheen. Despite his somewhat screen-friendly charm, he managed to convey the overwhelming insolence of his character which was critical for this film to be believable and have any merit beyond some Saturday night fun.
The second thing I found enjoyable was the somewhat distinct ‘look’ of the film. The combination of the cinematography and the treatment of the film gave it a somewhat distinct approach that I’ve come to appreciate with British films. Hollywood tends to produce films that all look vaguely similar in some way. However with the Damned United there was a unique feel to visuals which added a quirkiness to the film.
Interestingly there was very little on field football action. The film focused on the drama that surrounded the games and the interaction between Clough and his team’s boardroom. I would have preferred some more on field action as well as more weight given to the players characters. They seemed to look largely unhappy and generally mute. Greater interaction with Clough would have added another dynamic that I’d like to have seen unfold.
The Damned United is an understated and enjoyable film. Some great performances and great cinematography bring this film to life. Unfortunately the story rambles along without much of a climax. There could have been a bit more football shown and bit more of surprise but nonetheless, its worth a watch.
Plot Development 6.5/10
Quality Rating 73%
Entertainment Value 7.5/10