The Damned United is not your typical sports film. It's much more than that. It's a study of contrasting personalities. Set during the 60s and 70s, the movie details the conflict of two very different managers of rival football (soccer) clubs i.e. Brian Clough and Don Revie. Don Revie (played by Colm Meaney) is the manager of the top ranked and virtually unbeatable, Leeds United. They are the Damned United of the title. Brian Clough (played by Michael Sheen) is the very outspoken, but extremely talented manager of a second tier team, Derby County.
At the start of the film, Revie has accepted the position of manager for Team England. That leaves the position of Leeds United manager open and the job is offered to Brian Clough. The film traces Brian Clough's rise as Derby County manager and fall as Leeds. Of course, he finds much more success after his tenure at Leeds United. But, that's another movie. Most Americans might ignore a film about English football thinking the subject boring. This is not the case. It's a marvelous character study and a fantastic movie. Michael Sheen's performance as Brian Clough is absolutely riveting. He's a very talented and versatile actor with roles as diverse as David Frost, Tony Blair and even Lucien from Underworld. I found myself fascinated by Clough's obsession with Revie. That obsession is what drives the plot. The adapted script is extremely well done by Peter Morgan. He also wrote the screenplays for Frost/Nixon and the Queen. It's an extremely literate script with sharp dialog.
One thing I will mention is that while Colm Meaney did not have as much screen time as Michael Sheen, he makes his presence felt as Revie. He's a marvelous character actor who has big shoes to fill with this role. All the characters in this film are larger than life. Now, what makes this story interesting is that you eventually learn that Brian Clough's obsession with Revie arose from a perceived slight at a match. Clough says that Revie refused to shake his hand at the end of a game. Is that what has been driving this man ? That obsession is what keeps you glued to your seat. Michael Sheen is just that good at playing Clough. He's a foul mouthed ball of energy.
And this movie isn't just about the conflict between Clough and Revie. It's also a very good portrait of the friendship between Clough and his co-manager, Peter Taylor played by Timothy Spall. These two are also contrasting personalities. Peter Taylor was Brian Clough's anchor. He kept all of Clough's eccentricities in check. He's the sensible one. They were a team and when they had a fall out, that left Clough foundering.
One small detail I found interesting was the accents of the performers. Most Americans are used to hearing the polished accents of BBC English. There's none of that here. The movie is filled with rough Northern accents that may seem jarring at first, but eventually grow on a person.
This is a movie I hope more people will watch because it really is a fascinating subject. Is it true to life ? I'm sure it's a dramatization of the facts. However, that does not detract from the movie. You expect movies to take a certain amount of poetic license. Make time to see this movie, you won't regret it.