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The Damned United

If ever a movie was likely to be viewed differently by Americans audiences than in its home country, it’s this boisterous British drama about a soccer manager’s public burnout. Brian Clough was a well-known and (later in life) much-loved figure in England, where he was famed for always having something to say and never having the sense not to say it. He gained fame by taking a low-rated team into the top ranks of English soccer, along the way developing a deep hatred for the champion Leeds United team and its manager Don Revie, who he felt slighted him at their first meeting. Clough got a form of revenge when he succeeded Revie as the manager of Leeds, but it was short-lived: The players hated him for his attempts to remake them, and after failing to win a single game in 44 days he was fired.

Why would any of this be of interest to any but the most Anglophilic Americans? Because it was written by Peter Morgan (adapting a novel by David Peace), who in the past decade has had commercial success with such historical fictions as The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Frost/Nixon. And as Clough it stars Michael Sheen, who played David Frost in one of those films and Tony Blair in another. (He’ll reprise his Blair impersonation in Morgan’s upcoming The Special Relationship, across from Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton.)

So you don’t need to know the first thing about soccer or its recent history to enjoy this; you may even enjoy it more by virtue of not being distracted by its apparent fictionalizations of some incidents well-known to British soccer fans. This Clough seems to have been softened somewhat from the real thing, and it’s a shame not to see more of his mouthing off—if reports are to be believed, he was the soccer equivalent of Roddy Rowdy Piper. But with suitably muddy location filming in the East Midlands and Sheen leading a cast of top British character actors that includes Timothy Spall, Colm Meany, and Jim Broadbent, it’s a satisfying tale of ego run rampant.

m. faust

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