A film about one man’s obsession and how it almost cost him dearly. Brian Clough was the manager of Derby County Football Club and he took them from the bottom of the 2nd division in 1968 to the top of the 1st division in 1969. Ever since his team was drawn against Leeds United and their manager, Don Revie snubbed him by not snaking his hand at the end of the match, his hatred of them worsened. Yet when Revie leaves to manage England, Clough takes over his job. He is manager for just 6 games, a total of 44 days. The team hates him, they have no respect for him, they play terribly and he is sacked.
This film cuts back and forth between Clough’s surprise decision to take the job at Leeds, and the series of events that led up to it; his motivation for doing so. No prior knowledge of football is needed to enjoy this movie, as there are no long scenes of the teams playing on the pitch. It is more concerned with the characters, in particular Clough and the unhealthy grudge he develops that almost ruins his career.
The fact that Revie didn’t shake his hand seems to have a lasting effect on Brian Clough; he has a loathing for him and Leeds after that moment. He fields a strong side against them ahead of an important match with Juventus, when his chairman doesn’t want him to. As a result, a number of Derby’s players are injured by the dirty-playing Leeds team and they lose in an atmospheric evening match in the pouring rain. The Damned United has a number of great moments like this. Another comes when Clough can’t bear to go out to the sidelines to watch a match. Instead he waits in the locker room, trying to interpret every noise the crowd makes.
The film has a great script, written by Peter Morgan, the man responsible for The Queen and Frost/Nixon. There is some really nice framing of shots and the cinematography is good too. I like the on-screen visuals of the League tables, to show Derby climbing up the rankings. I also thought it successfully weaved old news recordings and new film together, including the montages of football footage.
There is a very strong cast including the unstoppable Michael Sheen, fast becoming a master at playing real-life characters. Already conquering the likes of Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair and David Frost, he turns his attention to Brian Clough in yet another great performance. He also gets solid support from reliable actors Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent and Colm Meaney.
Not being a huge fan of football myself, I expected to be lost and confused by the end of this film. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself avidly following the events as they unfolded. Perhaps this shouldn’t be classed as a football film but rather as a character study because it tries to show the mindset of Brian Clough when he made such a shocking decision fuelled by his obsession and ambition. All in all it is a thoroughly enjoyable British film that provided a lot more than I expected.