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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
TBC
Cast
Michael Sheen
Timothy Spall
Colm Meaney
Jim Broadbent.
Directors
Tom Hooper.
Screenwriters
Running Time
TBC minutes

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The Damned United
Tactically astute biopic of a flawed football genius.


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Plot
Having taken lowly Derby County to the league championship, the brilliant but mercurial Brian Clough (Sheen) is offered the chance to manage glorious Leeds United — the club he despised. But then, he was never one to make the wise choice…


Review
The Damned United

In turning David Peace’s lyrical portrayal of Brian Clough into a movie, potential filmmakers faced an uphill challenge. The novel runs on less a plot than a stream of interior monologues irretrievable to film. It involves football, a sport that defeats a cinematic treatment — that swift, Brownian motion transformed into Keystone Cop capering as soon as a camera rolls. It is set among the rusting stands and squalid backstreets of early ’70s grounds. And, most of all, there is the enormity of Cloughie himself, that ocean of contradictions. A master tactician with no tact, a massive personality beset by insecurity: he became a warped icon embodying all the richness, wit and egomania of the British game. Who would dare go near a force of nature like that?

Simple answer: Michael Sheen, that’s who, an actor who thrives when deciphering the riddles of the British psyche. Utilising his gift for both uncannily mimicking his target and weighing up their humanity, he never lets Clough feel absurd. The slicked quiff, jabbing finger and pursed lips, as if sucking on an ineffectual gobstopper, are all present, but here are reflective moments, a sense of the suffering behind that rarely stopped gob. After Williams (comedian), Frost (TV presenter), Blair (prime minister) and now Clough (football manager), where next for the superlative actor? Gordon Ramsay? P. G. Woodhouse? Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

Screenwriter Peter Morgan is another with a gift for articulating peculiarly British foibles, but in contrast to the aristocratic gamesmanship of The Queen, he hones in on the brash, working- class male bravado that littered the sport in the ’70s; a realm whose heroes would depart the arena, light up an Embassy Gold and head for the nearest boozer. Colm Meaney is especially good as smug, devilish Leeds supremo Don Revie — Clough’s great nemesis. Morgan traces the source of their rivalry down to a muddy defeat for Derby against Revie’s tetchy, dirty Leeds, after which Revie neglected to shake his hand. Clough’s mountainous pride saw them as grand cheats only he could reform.

The adaptation had been Stephen Frears’ brainchild, but he went in search of softer stories, leaving it to Tom Hooper, fresh from his splendid HBO mini-series John Adams, to recreate a ’70s Britain of terraced housing, ailing factories and the local climate of Mordor. Hooper has his own gift for the visceral grot of bygone times. 

Sensibly, he chooses to minimise any actual on-screen football. One skilful scene has Clough remain in his office unable to watch as his Derby take on Leeds again, only the muffled roar of the home crowd signalling the score. There is a lovely sense of the emotional toil of football, its arcane practices, without needing to swan about on muddy pitches.

Even so, the film struggles to find its stride — more a collection of sharply observed scenes than a comfortable whole. It takes the writer-director team too long to decide their story is less that of Clough’s ill-judged tenure at Leeds — which left them languishing in the lower reaches of the first division amid suggestions of player sabotage — than a ‘love story’ between the ribald manager and his sturdy number two, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). Taylor was the key to Clough’s success, he made him tick, but, smelling trouble, refused to join him at Leeds. It was this break-up, the script surmises, that was Clough’s undoing.

Like The Queen, it is a film that resists easy definition, never fully a comedy, a drama, or a biopic. But there is something here that rings true — its compassionate grasp of the near-religious fervour still granted football in this country. It just matters. Of that, Clough would have approved.


Verdict
Sheen thrives in the guise of the idiosyncratic Clough in a brilliantly candid, if bitty, football parable.


Reviewed by William Thomas

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Damned United
Empire Star Rating

Damned United

Michael Sheen rules!!!!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:34, 29 March 2010 | Report This Post


The finest sports movie ever made (in my opinion better than Raging Bull). And i really hate Football. So i am not being unfair ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Blue Ryan at 22:36, 18 February 2010 | Report This Post


Following memorable “stepping stones” in The Queen and Frost/Nixon, Sheen finally achieves tour du force heights in his pitch-perfect embodiment of Clough. But The Damned United is not just The Performance; it’s a marvellous concoction, written with a smarmy zest, making for a humorous and beguiling look at the dangers of ego. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Romarth at 18:05, 03 May 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

L: Achtung Englander I knew Brian Clough when I was a kid. He told my mum I was a cheeky little boy - which always brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it nt=arial]. ... More

Posted by rick_7 at 10:46, 01 May 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

I knew Brian Clough when I was a kid. He told my mum I was a cheeky little boy - which always brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it haven't seen the film yet but its a definite must on DVD ... More

Posted by Achtung Englander at 19:15, 30 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

L: doncopey1 The matches themselves are almost like a hyper reality, for instance the over amplified rain drops falling during one of the games.nt=arial]int, that. That's e matches are shown, and I hadn't really thought of it. It's a smart way of presenting football, as matches are so self-contained, with the clear distinction between winning and losing that life rarely offers. ... More

Posted by rick_7 at 14:02, 30 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

L: rick_7 L: Goodfella I can see maybe why the Clough family have had a few issues with it, certainly the slightly homoerotic relationship between Clough and Taylor that they spent a few scenes hinting at.nt="arial"] a difference between homoeroticism and a friendship rooted in love. Or were you thinking of the bit where Cloughie rubbed oil all over Taylor in the dressing room? Because that didn't happen. 2"]  2"]The family haven't seen the film, their problems with the book... More

Posted by doncopey1 at 13:52, 30 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

L: Goodfella I can see maybe why the Clough family have had a few issues with it, certainly the slightly homoerotic relationship between Clough and Taylor that they spent a few scenes hinting at.nt=arial] a difference between homoeroticism and a friendship rooted in love. Or were you thinking of the bit where Cloughie rubbed oil all over Taylor in the dressing room? Because that didn't happen. ]  ]The family haven't seen the film, their problems with the book were largely to do wi... More

Posted by rick_7 at 09:47, 30 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

A pretty good film with a great central performance from Sheen. The main problems I had with the film were the somewhat homoerotic exchanges between Clough and Taylor, although given how close their relationship was I can forgive this. Also, why does Peter Morgan always feel the need to put in some bullshit telephone conversation/exchange betweeen the two central rivals in his scripts? We had Blair and the Queen in 'The Queen', Frost and Nixon in 'Frost/Nixon', and we have it again here with Cl... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mattdavies86 at 15:32, 29 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

It was fairly average I have to say. I thought Michael Sheen was fantastic as Brian Clough but the film itself was rather bland and the story seemed solely focused on getting laughs from Clough's pompus but rather loveable attitude. I can see maybe why the Clough family have had a few issues with it, certainly the slightly homoerotic relationship between Clough and Taylor that they spent a few scenes hinting at. It was still enjoyable enough for a footie fan like myself though. 3/5 ... More

Posted by Goodfella at 10:14, 23 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

Easily the best fictionalized football film I've ever seen. Achieves the impossible by making a football film feel authentic, and Sheen continues to build his excellent CV with a strong interpretation of the legendary Manager. Good to hear my local team Hearts get a mention too!!!   4/5 ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 23:45, 08 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Damned United

]MICHAEL Sheen excels as football manager Brian Clough in a film that everyone should enjoy - except Leeds United fans.rial]/align]]Loosely based on David Peace's incendiary novel, the movie flits between two timeframes, as Clough (Michael Sheen) turns provincial no-hopers Derby County into league champions, then spends a disastrous 44 days at Leeds. Clough is portrayed as an idealist who clashes with players and fans at league champions Leeds as he seeks to curb their cheating and obliter... More

Posted by rick_7 at 13:58, 06 April 2009 | Report This Post


Damned United

Clough was obviously a hugely complicated man. Here, coach Peter Taylor is seen as the one with the brains, who was responsible for assembling the league winning team. it projects the image of someone who was all talk, with little to back it up. Despite the often downbeat tone, there is still enough here to warrant a gander. You'd think Michael Sheen would be sick of playing real life characters but, if he is, he isn't showing it. He has essentially nailed Clough to the point that you forg... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 17:18, 04 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

L: Sway L: skeletonjack L: Sway I wholeheartedly echo this sentiment and was, in fact just away to post in response to Skeletonjacks unfortunate claim that unless you're into footy you just won't care.     y quote actually said "probably wont care" which is clearly very different to "you just wont care". I perhaps should clarify that I felt people who weren't interested in football probably wouldn't be that interested in seeing it and therefore wouldn't give it a chan... More

Posted by skeletonjack at 10:27, 04 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

L: skeletonjack L: Sway I wholeheartedly echo this sentiment and was, in fact just away to post in response to Skeletonjacks unfortunate claim that unless you're into footy you just won't care.     y quote actually said "probably wont care" which is clearly very different to "you just wont care". I perhaps should clarify that I felt people who weren't interested in football probably wouldn't be that interested in seeing it and therefore wouldn't give it a chance... More

Posted by Sway at 00:23, 04 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

L: Sway I wholeheartedly echo this sentiment and was, in fact just away to post in response to Skeletonjacks unfortunate claim that unless you're into footy you just won't care.     y quote actually said "probably wont care" which is clearly very different to "you just wont care". I perhaps should clarify that I felt people who weren't interested in football probably wouldn't be that interested in seeing it and therefore wouldn't give it a chance which WOULD DEFINITELY be a great sh... More

Posted by skeletonjack at 18:04, 03 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

L: frankie Well, I know next to nothing about football. I just never got into it. But, I loved this film. It's not really about football ata ll. It's a relationship story. It's a story about pride and ambition. Plus it's very funny. I loved every second of it. wholeheartedly echo this sentiment and was, in fact just away to post in response to Skeletonjacks unfortunate claim that unless you're into footy you just won't care.   Personally I think that's about as far rem... More

Posted by Sway at 17:09, 03 April 2009 | Report This Post


Disappointing

I found this a paperweight collection of barely related scenes, with the central friendship/love affair between Taylor and Clough completely sidestepped. Was there anything to their relationship besides Taylor's genius? You never know. Michael Sheen was always watchable, but having his loathing of Leeds and Revie born out of one slight, whether true or not, was shallow and emotionally unsatisfying as entertainment. The Damned Utd reguritates the old truisms of players being as thick as ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Speedwagon Roll! at 09:38, 02 April 2009 | Report This Post


Way better than I thought it would be. More than just a football movie about a man people may not know so well. And more than just one good performance from Sheen (though it IS good). There's an emotional kick playing alongside all the amusing passes. It's brisk, refreshing, interesting and full of vitality. Should have got more than 3 stars, Empire! You've played a shocker there! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by AngeloComet at 10:11, 31 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

Well, I know next to nothing about football. I just never got into it. But, I loved this film. It's not really about football ata ll. It's a relationship story. It's a story about pride and ambition. Plus it's very funny. I loved every second of it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by frankie at 00:08, 28 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

I found the acting, mainly stemming from an awful script, annoying and dull, and the whole film seemed to be just dire. Maybe it's relegated (get it) to football fans, but I try to expand my cinematic horizons. Shame too, The Queen and Frost / Nixon were little crackers, I hoped for at least some of those films here. ... More

Posted by Ethanial at 00:02, 28 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

Great film and a must see for any football fan. Sheen is exceptional as Clough and the supporting cast are all on good form. One of if not the best film about football ever made. ... More

Posted by lord of the pies at 22:53, 27 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

My film of the year so far, Engrossing and best movie i've seen based around football. Michael Sheen yet again nails another person perfectly, this time in the shape of Big 'Ead himself Brian Clough. It's also full of great performances for the likes of Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent and Stephan Graham as legendary hardman Billy Bremner. The only downside was it was too short and left me wanting more, especially the Nottingham Forest part of his career. 9/10 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Starscream at 22:07, 27 March 2009 | Report This Post


Brilliant

To quote the great man himself 'bloody brilliant full stop!'. The acting all round is first class, and at times its spooky how much Sheen looks like Clough never mind the exellent impersination. The 70's look and feel is expertly captured, particularly the old facades of Elland Road and Derby. Just go see it ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by rougier at 21:09, 27 March 2009 | Report This Post


Bloody Great!

Finally a decent footy film. This succeeds where others fail due to the combination of good acting, sharp script and the smart decision to not actually stage much football at all. Highly enjoyable, thoroughly engaging, of course if you're not a footy fan you probably wont care. 4 stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by skeletonjack at 16:59, 27 March 2009 | Report This Post


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