The Damned United is a 2009 biographical sports drama film directed by Tom Hooper, written by Peter Morgan and stars Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, and Jim Broadbent. The film tells a largely fictional tale of Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44-day spell as the manager of Leeds United whilst recounting his rise to prominence to be deserving of the biggest job in the land.
Instead of going on with my regular write-up, I’m going to try and explain my admiration for this film via the deep bond I have with 2 specific scenes in it.
Let’s start off as we almost always do with one of those folksy anecdotes I use to make sense of cinema. The world of pro-wrestling is built on the foundations of respect. The code dictates that you know your place in the company and always show respect to your fellow wrestlers. One of the ways to do this is, when you run into another wrestler backstage, you extend your hand to give out a handshake. It is a code strictly enforced and followed by all. I say this because this film has one of my favorite inciting incidents that kicks the plot into motion. The story is predicated on a handshake or lack thereof.
I’m a huge believer in honor codes and respecting your fellow man, no matter how high or low they are on the totem pole of social standing. The incident hits home for me and I get wrapped up in the story every time I see it happen.
The next anecdote I have comes thanks to the most celebrated innovator from the world of racing, Enzo Ferrari. It is said that Ferrari believed that a race was won or lost even before the car’s engine turned on, on the race track. He valued the power of preparation and planning to such a high degree.
This sentiment is echoed in this film in an excellently executed scene. The moment of truth for Brian Clough where his years of preparation come to a head with his reverse fixture against Leeds United as the manager of Derby County. With a mountain of nerves and humiliation staring him in the face if things were to go wrong, Michael Sheen’s Brian Clough walks into his team’s dressing room with the calm reserved for only the best of snipers.
There is no rousing speech. There is no swelling music. Every single man in that room knows the task at hand and what they need to do to make themselves champions. A bunch of fired up footballers walks onto the pitch but Clough himself stays in his office throughout the duration of the match. The slow moving clock, the cheers of the audience, the score that accompanies the scene and Martin Sheen’s face which acts as a canvas of human emotion all combine to form those few seconds of cinematic excellence which captures the human experience to the finest degree. I FUCKING LOVE IT.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE, loved it the first time I saw it. This might be the 15th time I’m rewatching it and I love it even more. The direction, the camera work, the character arcs, the high stakes, the relationship between the two leads, the joy of sport, the sheer destructive repercussions of ambition, the distinctly British feel the film possesses all meld in with my love of football and leave me speechless at every watch because I’m too busy cheering my nuts off.
One need not be a fan of football (I refuse to call it soccer) to like this film. As the best sci-fi films are never about the future but a commentary about the present, this film is not about football. It is about respect, ambition, rivalries and the power of friendship