Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) is the manager for the Leeds United soccer team, brought in to replace Don Revie (Colm Meaney), who is off to manage the England team. Clough is young, charismatic, brash, arrogant and opinionated, and has some pretty unflattering (and publicly aired) views about his predecessor and the thuggish style of play he fostered. So begin his 44 catastrophic days in 1974 as the unwelcome manager of United, and the film flashes back to the meteoric rise that brought him to this crucial pass.
This must surely be one of the best sports-related movies I have ever seen. Every conceivable sports movie cliché goes out the window. There are no extended sequences showing the games, just some quick, impressionistic shots that tell you all you need to know. This is not the inevitable story of the Underdog Making Good. It is the reverse: a rising star who takes over the most successful team in the country and becomes a legendary disaster. And yet the film is oddly triumphant. It is very much about Clough’s relationships with two men: his obsessive rivalry with Revie, who isn’t even aware of him, and his deep friendship with partner Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), a friendship that might save him from himself, did he but realize it. The performances are superb, with Meaney looking uncannily like Revie (seen in footage at the end of the film), and Sheen astounding yet again, in the wake of his performances as Tony Blair and David Frost, cementing his position as one of the great actors of this generation.
Very much the picture quality one would expect from Blu-Ray – in other words, superb. The naturalistic grit of the film is perfectly captured, with every sheen of sweat and grain of dirt lovingly rendered. As grimy and industrial as the film is (perfectly capturing the England of 1974), there is something aesthetically pleasing about all the grey and mud, and the transfer does its source material proud. Grain? Forget it. Skin tones, colours, contrasts, blacks? All wonderful.
Ditto for sound. The mix is strong, with background music largely inhabiting the rear speakers, supporting but not overwhelming the dialogue. The environmental effects are excellent, and the left-right separation is superb, creating a very powerful sense of space and movement.
Commentary Track: Featured here are Sheen, director Tom Hooper and producer Andy Harries. Round tables can often degenerate into incoherent horsing around, but those these three gentleman are certainly witty, they remain articulate and informative throughout.
“Perfect Pitch: The Making of The Damned United”: (16:26) Promotional in nature this may be, but it is much more interesting than the usual fare.
“Cloughisms”: (8:58) Footage shot to create the media scenes in the film, with Sheen participating in unscripted interviews as Clough. Hooper is on hand for the optional commentary.
“Remembering Brian”: (9:34) Good context for North American viewers, this. Interviews with players of the period and others who recall Clough.
“The Changing Game: Football in the 70s”: (19:121) Even more context, one that shows just how brutal the game could be.
Deleted Scenes: (34:10).
Trailers. 14 of them.
Don’t know who Brian Clough is? (I didn’t.) Don’t know a thing about English Football? (Ditto.) Doesn’t matter. A terrific film.