David Peace is known for a number of dark books with crime themes, but The Damned United is something rather different. It’s about the 44 days that the controversial football manager Brian Clough spent in charge of Leeds United. I haven’t read the book, but I recently watched Tom Hooper’s 2009 film of the story, and much enjoyed it.
Brian Clough was a larger than life individual, and a very suitable character for fictional interpretation. He was both brilliant and deeply flawed (as so many brilliant people are deeply flawed) and his vanity led him into many disastrous errors. Prime among them was the decision to accept the job as manager of Leeds, a club which he despised. He also had a long-running vendetta with Don Revie, his predecessor at Leeds. When things go badly for Clough at Leeds, Revie finds it impossible not to gloat. In later years, Clough and Revie suffered ill-health and died relatively young, but in their hey-day they were truly formidable figures.
I was interested in the various changes made to the real life sequence of events for the purpose of making the story (and the rivalry with Revie) more dramatic. It’s a reminder that one has to take the ‘factual’ basis of most fact-based stories with a large pinch of salt. But, for the most part, the inventions seemed to be true to the spirit of the story.
Michael Sheen’s performance of Clough is superb; he really is an impressive performer. Timothy Spall does his usual great job as Peter Taylor, Clough’s long-suffering sidekick, and Colm Meaney is terrific as Revie. A very enjoyable film, even if you don’t like football.