44 Days Later
Being a fan of the beautiful game I was aware of Brian Clough and his infamous reputation long before "The Damned United" was released. Although my earliest memory of Brian Clough was when as the manager of Nottingham Forrest he punched a fan leading to a court case and as such the period covered in "The Damned United" was something I had heard about but knew little off. What was that period well it's the 44 days he was in charge of Leeds United as well as the 4 years leading up to his taking charge, what a fascinating period it was.
As the outspoken manager of Derby football club, Brian Clough (Michael Sheen - Frost/Nixon) leads them from the bottom of Division 2 to the top of Division 1. But whilst his passion for football is one reason for his obsession to be the best it is also his rivalry with Don Revie (Colm Meaney - Layer Cake) who as the manager of prestige club Leeds United riles Clough because of the dirty way his teams play. When Revie leaves Leeds to become the England manager Clough gets his chance to turn Leeds into a team who play the beautiful game except it turns out to be a poisoned chalice which lasted just 44 days as no one liked him or his outspoken ways.
The first thing which strikes you about "The Damned United" is the authentic recreation of the era. Merging old footage with new you are transported to a time when England was in a mess and footballers weren't the bunch of preening over paid prima donnas we have now. Everything about the way "The Damned United" looks, even the small details just whisk you away to that era and seeing a run down Derby football club is spot on, having seen many similar looking clubs as a child. The authenticity extends to the recreation of the football game with Stephen Graham doing a marvellous job of playing Billy Bremner putting in crunching tackles which these days would most likely see you banned for life.
But away from the whole nostalgia of the era, the period of Brian Clough's life it covers is fascinating. Flicking between 1969 when Cloughie was manager of Division 2 strugglers Derby through to 1973 and taking over the prestige club of the time Leeds United it unravels as to why those 44 days in charge ended up so poorly. As I already mentioned, I'd only heard about this period of time in Cloughie's career but it has everything starting with his almost idolization of Leeds manager Don Revie through to an obsession to beat him, for basically disrespecting which Revie showed him. It sounds a little far fetched but knowing what I know about Brian Clough, he was a driven man and when he put his mind to something he went hell for leather to achieve it.
But whilst this may sound like "The Damned United" was all about one mans obsession to put one over on another it is far more and it's also about what Cloughie considered was the right way to play football. He was a man who enjoyed the game, played the proper way with skill, passes and intelligence rather than the thuggery which he felt Don Revie has instilled into his players. And as such he wanted to prove that the game played properly could be a thing of beauty.
And on top of this "The Damned United" is also about relationships and not just the rivalry between Brian Clough and Don Revie but also Clough and his right hand man Peter Taylor. It's a revealing side of the movie because it was always Brian Clough you heard about, and not Peter Taylor yet due to Clough's obsession with beating Revie the closeness of the relationship soured. And the way this is shown, as if Clough and Taylor were like a married couple actually makes it more realistic, the arguments, the friendship, the asking for forgiveness all seems more real.
Of course taking on such an iconic character as Brian Clough is by no means an easy task and it has to be said that Michael Sheen does it brilliantly. Managing to look a little like the young Cloughie he mimics all his mannerisms and the way he spoke brilliantly. And Sheen is not alone as Timothy Spall does an equally good job of playing Peter Taylor and Colm Meaney is impressive as the hard as nails Don Review.
What this all boils down to is that "The Damned United" is a magnificent movie which brings to life not only the character of Brian Clough but also a chapter in his life which lead to his turbulent 44 days reign as managed of Leeds United. Between the wonderful performances, the engrossing storyline, the whole recreation of the early 70s and the crunching football of the time it is a movie which just reels you in and keeps you engrossed till the credits roll.