The Damned United DVD Review: Back Of The Net
Could Michael Sheen be the most adaptable actor of his generation?
His performance as Brian Howard Clough in the Damned United has set the marker for his peers and future generations to match.
Clough is the latest personality Sheen has mastered, following on from most notably Tony Blair and David Frost; capturing the original “cloughisms” of old big ‘ed with efficient fluency and style. Famed for his TV appearances and confrontational style, Sheen morphs into Clough’s shoes with great ease, conquering the notable twitching and northern bravado with eerie affluence.
Remember, David Peace’s biopic is not a tribute to Clough’s career, but rather a tasteful look at the one blotch on the career of the greatest English manager to never manage England. For non-football fans Clough’s achievements have only been matched by Sir Alex Ferguson, with Clough winning two European Cups and the League with Nottingham Forest, plus another League Championship with Derby County.
However, the Damned United charts 44 days from Clough’s perspective managing Leeds United, without his trusted right hand man Peter Taylor. Clough had succeeded Don Revie (who became England manager) as Leeds United manager, a club and management structure he had previously publicly criticised and vilified as bully’s, despite once comparing himself to Revie. He begins his tenure as Leeds manager with a candid television interview, a classic Clough trait which Sheen executes with great aplomb.
The story is told in a simple starch manner allowing the complex “love triangle” of Clough, Revie and Taylor to unfold among a backdrop of seventies nostalgia, which evokes memory’s of how the beautiful game used to be played. A reminder of days without wags, hotel spit roasts, divers or flash cars – an era when passion was the draw. Clough’s fierce arrogance and pride is portrayed brilliantly, showing the vulnerability of the Clough ego that eventually got him sacked from Derby County, and then Elland Road.
Despite the book receiving criticism from family members of certain characters involved for being historically inacurrate, the film does not suffer. The chain of events are most certainly fiction based on fact, but the characterisation is not weakened nor is the film’s terrific story – although despite being extremely moving as Clough’s loyal assisitant Peter Taylor, Timothy Spall bares no resemblance to the man, and the constant portrayal of football pitches in the seventies bearing a similarity to the trenches adds a little too much colour.
In short, the performance from Sheen brings a modern great of British sport back to life for a thrilling hour and a half. All football fans who are desperate to know what Clough was really like should watch in awe and get ready to salivate. Despite its factual innaccuracies, the nostalgic feelings induced of a WAGless past are a much needed experience for all real football fans. If you aren’t ‘ballon’ minded, simply sit back and enjoy the most adaptable character of his generation light up your screen. He is most certainly in the “top one.”