The Damned United (15)
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Time Out says
Tue Mar 24 2009Admirers of David Peace’s novel will notice a friendlier approach to Brian Clough in this version. Written by Peter Morgan, it stars his muse Michael Sheen as the gobby manager who triumphed at Derby County before failing to fill the shoes of new England boss Don Revie in charge of Division One flash boys Leeds United in 1974. Gone are the paranoid, booze-drenched first-person screeches of Peace to be replaced with a simplified and kinder twin focus on Clough’s reliance on his assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) and his manic obsession with Revie (Colm Meaney).There are hints of ‘Frost/Nixon’: Clough calls Revie in the night, while their rivalry culminates in a televisual face-off. Peace/Morgan is an equivalent showdown: how can Morgan, a writer who injects fiction into reality, improve on Peace, whose daring extends to imagining 1970s Yorkshire as a noir hell in his ‘Red Riding’ books? In simplifying Peace, Morgan clips his own wings.
Director Tom Hooper, known for small-screen triumphs like ‘Longford’, must squeeze from scant resources a sense of both the epic – ie the football – and the period, which, with its tatty stadiums, was decidely non-epic. He’s better at the latter, although a witty script helps plug the gaps. At best, Hooper follows a match entirely from the perspective of the dressing room. At worst, he has to make archive footage work so hard it upstages his drama. He’s blessed with character turns: Sheen is cheeky and likeable, while Jim Broadbent’s Derby chairman is deliciously old-school. The biggest failure is the film’s portrayal of the Leeds team: the oddly-coiffured lads are never more than a unit and the calamity of Clough’s time in charge too much of a given.
Author: Dave Calhoun