I’ve been waiting for this film to come out for ages. When I first read the book (half the front cover of which is shown on the left. I need to work out why I can only upload 50% of my portrait shots) I was blown away by it. I’d never read such a gripping, original account of the football world. Better still, despite being about Brian Clough’s time at Leeds United and Derby County, it was written by a Huddersfield Town supporter. Three cheers for David Peace. Get in there, clever lad!
The film’s had a mixed reception. Half the Leeds players have been upset by it and Brian Clough’s family haVE boycotted it and I guess if you detest football you’re not going to get much out of it either but I thought it was spot-on. First of all, Timothy Spall’s one of the cast. Any film starring Timothy Spall is bound to be watchable as he is simply the best British actor going. End of. Michael Sheen, playing Clough, is amazing at getting under the skin of whichever character he takes on (Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair etc) but that makes me feel a bit queazy for some reason. He was Clough to a ‘t’ but I felt he overdid the sneering a little. Now Spall; what a guy. He played Peter Taylor, Clough’s assistant and was responsibly for some of the most poignant moments in the film. The Damned United is as much about the deep bond that existed between the maverick coach and his loyal sidekick as it is football and Spall portrayed this brilliantly. In non-football terms, Clough is Frodo and Taylor is Samwise. Discuss.
The 1970s, when the film was set, is seen by some as a golden era of football but Damned United gives a stark reminder of how grim things were. The shabby changing rooms, the dire, almost grass-free swamps of pitches, the generally squalid conditions in some of the lower league clubs – all brought home how much better things are now. As for the football itself. Ouch! The film is at its most riveting when it uses original footage of some of the games, especially the shots homing in on the dirty tackles for which Leeds were infamous. It’s a wonder they didn’t cripple half the opposition for life.
Football is notoriously difficult to put into a film setting (When Saturday Comes springs to mind) as football played by actors is usually unconvincing but The Damned United has to be up there as one of the best.
Well done to Huddersfield Town yesterday for their three points against Hereford, too. All in all I had a good Saturday!