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Who Do You Bloody Think You Are?,
This review is from: The Damned United [DVD]  (DVD)
This in(famous) sequence in which Leeds United chairman Manny Cousins puts this question to the (about to be) sacked manager Brian Howard Clough (in response to Clough's compensation pay demands) is just one of many golden moments in Tom Hooper's masterly 2009 depiction of the life and career of the best manager England never had. Indeed, although it undoubtedly helps, I don't think you actually need to be a 'football saddo' (like me) who is always thrilled to stumble upon an early Sunday morning showing on ITV4 of the Big Match from the 1970s (the period when I actually was a football fan), to appreciate the brilliance of Hooper's film, and of Peter Morgan's screenplay (making it, for me, up with the likes of The Hustler, This Sporting Life, Eight Men Out, etc as one of the finest ever sporting screen depictions).
Of course, in the role as the Middlesbrough lad we have an astonishing and uncanny performance from the great Michael Sheen - his other 'film impersonations' have been impressive (David Frost, Bliar, etc), but none gets anywhere near his Clough - it really is as if he inhabits the role. Not to be outdone, The Damned United also features another remarkably life-like performance with Colm Meaney doing a great (and typically dour) Don Revie, the Leeds United manager whose job Clough had inherited for his 44 days in the role (as Revie went on to manage England), and with whom Clough had a publicly vindictive relationship (which in the film is portrayed as stemming from an incident where celebrated Leeds manager Revie had snubbed Clough's offered handshake whilst the latter was languishing in the lower divisions managing the (soon to be big) Derby County).
However, The Damned United is not only an impressive display of consummate acting - for example, we also have Timothy Spall, typically superb and down-to-earth as Clough's managerial sidekick, Peter Taylor, the great Jim Broadbent as Clough's chairman at Derby County, Sam Longson ('Colin Todd - a salary of £300 a week, you can't pay a footballer that'), Maurice RoŽves excellent as the hard-bitten Scottish ex-miner and Leeds coach Jimmy Gordon, Stephen Graham suitably antagonistic as Billy Bremner, and (the one negative) Peter McDonald as the unconvincing (well, he's about a foot too tall, for a start) Johnny Giles - but is also a cleverly constructed, shot and edited piece of work, as it dovetails Clough's later period at Leeds, with his earlier aspirational time at Derby, thereby explaining his confrontational attitude on arriving at Leeds (whose initial training session at Elland Road is cinematic magic, as he lambasts the Leeds players for their past intimidatory approach 'You've never won any of them fairly, you've done it all by bloody cheating...'). The film's concluding sequence to the tune of Bowie's Queen Bitch in which we learn of the future trajectories of Clough and Revie's careers is also exhilarating and magical.
As you have probably guessed, I am rather a fan of The Damned United, both this film and David Peace's book on which it is based (and which paints Clough in a more negative personal light than does the film), and whilst I am sure I would be preaching to the converted in relation to anyone who has a nostalgic interest in this sporting episode, I do honestly believe that Hooper's (and Morgan's) tale should appeal to anyone interested in what is a compelling story of (variously thwarted and fulfilled) human ambition and tragedy - even my other half loves it, and she hates football!