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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Damned United


Starring: Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 31 August 2009

Brian Clough is often regarded as the best manager that the British national football team never had. Acerbic and driven, Clough made as many admirers as he did enemies, what can’t be denied is his reign of success as a football manager, that is until he spend forty-four days managing Leeds...

The Damned United (2009 - 1 hr 37 min 38 sec) is a biopic directed by Tom Hooper. The script, by Peter Morgan, was an adaptation of David Peace’s novel.

To be honest, I must be one of the few males who grew up without a single interest in football, all those men kicking a bladder around a pitch just left me cold. That’s not to say that I was unaware of who Brian Clough was, as he remained a presence on television in the seventies, his acerbic form of egotism made him the perfect guest for talk shows.

Although the film's main concentration is on the forty-four days which he spent managing Leeds, a job he got fired from, supposedly for poor performance and alienating the players, the actual narrative leaps forward and backward in time to also examine his relationship with long-time assistant, Peter Taylor, a relationship which eventually soured and his public feud with Don Revie, who he replaced as manager.

I know little of Clough as a man, but here he is presented as a driven, if flawed, genius, often misunderstood, even by those closest to him. For a portrayal of a character the film relies very much on the talents of Michael Sheen in the titular role. Sheen has previously turned his talents to other historical figures, including Kenneth Williams (Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (2006)), Tony Blair (The Queen (2006)) and David Frost (Frost/Nixon (2008)), in each case he has proven that his portrayal not only gets under the skin of the character, but his talent as a mimic is able to bring to the fore the character's most recognisable traits. The same can be seen with his portrayal of Clough, as Sheen turns in another mesmerising performance. As this is a portrait of a man it is not necessary to know anything about, or even like football.

Sheen is ably supported by the other cast members including Colm Meaney (Don Revie) the object of Clough’s ire, who leaves Leeds to become manager of England, Colm’s a fine actor and turns in his usual good performance, though he remains very much a hate figure for Clough and so we view Revie through Clough's own lens. Their final confrontation on a talk show is riveting to watch and the start of Clough’s redemption.

A more interesting relationship exists between Clough and Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who acts as Clough’s moral compass, a compass he eventually looses after he reneges on a promise to manage Brighton & Hove Albion. The film is as much about the friendship of these two men, one a bombastic egomaniac, the other the quite professional who is happier out of the spot light. The cast is well rounded out with Jim Broadbent (Sam Longson, Derby’s Chairman) and Stephen Graham (Billy Bremner).

The film uses a combination of actual footage and recreated interview material to flesh out Sheen’s performance and for once both the film and the extras are in glorious high definition. The 1080p picture is pretty sharp with good detail; the film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with a single TrueHD 5.1 audio track and a single English Audio descriptive Service 5.1. Subtitles are restricted to English and Hindi.

The film is provided with a full length commentary, with optional subtitles, from the director (Tom Hooper), the producer (Andy Harries) and Sheen, with much of the discussion contemplating the changes that had to be made to the original novel. Their explanation is that the changes were made due to the needs of the narrative, but you honestly get the feeling that had they just shot the film with the book's portrayal of Clough less people would have found the film a pleasurable experience.

Next up is nine deleted scenes (of varying shot lengths) which expands on Clough’s rather erratic behaviour, these are provided with a commentary from the director who explains that the removals were required if Clough was to be seen as a sympathetic character by the audience. You get five Cloughisms, which consist of footage shot with Michael Sheen to recreate some of the television interviews, also with commentary from the director.

There are four main featurettes. Pitch Perfect: The Making of the Damned Untied (16 min, 26 sec), with contributions from the director, looking at the adaptation of the book for the film. Creating Clough: Michael Sheen takes on Ol’ Big ‘Ead (10 min, 17 sec) with Sheen looking at how he recreated Clough. It’s always interesting to see how an actor is able to inhabit the skin of another. The last two are Remembering Brian: Friends and Players Reminisce (9 min, 34 sec) wherein friends and colleagues remember the real man and The Changing Game: Football in the Seventies (19 min, 12 sec) which examines a transitional time in the history of football. The disc is wrapped up with a selection of HD trailers.

Even for someone like myself who has no interest in football this is a compelling tale of one man’s singular obsession, which allowed him to climb extraordinary heights and plumb some dubious depths.


Charles Packer

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