Cast and Crew: Tom Hooper (Director), Colm Meaney, Michael Clough, Timothy Spall.
What it’s About: A backwater soccer club in northern England dances to the top of the First Division, drawing all eyes to its magnetically arrogant coach, Brian Clough (Michael Sheen, The Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon). While his clashes with ownership and spectacular on-field tactics capture the press, the real secret to his success is his behind-the-scenes collaboration with sharp-scouting assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall, The King’s Speech, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Clough’s lust for conquest knows no bounds, and when archrival Don Revie (Colm Meaney, Deep Space Nine) vacates his place as Leeds United coach, Clough jumps at the chance to show up the reigning crown of the British pitch. But without Taylor at his side, will Clough be able to manage the personalities, including his own?
Why Watch it Today: Soccer coach Don Revie left Leeds United in 1974 to chair the England national team. England fans in 2014 can take solace that their early-exiting squad did better than Revie’s, whose boys failed to qualify for World Cup action. While this film is not about international soccer, it nevertheless dramatizes shifts in English play, where player salaries rocketed up and power seeped away from ownership and into the hands of a professional class of coaches. Smashmouth ball gave way to the “beautiful game”, inaugurating a grand era of English soccer savored by sporting fans all over the world. This film indulges our nostalgia with bang-up sets and costumes, punchy dialog, and brilliant buddy romance by actors Michael Sheen as Clough and Timothy Spall as Taylor. Criticized for its liberties with sporting fact, The Damned United shouldn’t be used as a history lesson, but should be appreciated at face value as a joyful tale of hubris and friendship. Precious few sports flicks are worth a look from wider audiences. The Damned United is one of them.