Kick-Back Friday: #136
The Damned United (2009): Few Americans are familiar with Brian Clough, the outspoken UK football (read, soccer) manager, but the guy’s a legend in his home country. An American correlate would be somebody like the NY Yankees’ Billy Martin: a personality in danger of overshadowing the players, the owners—even the sport itself. So when BBC Films and Left Bank Pictures wanted to back the filmic version of Clough’s controversial 44-day tenure at Leeds United in 1974, based on a bestselling novel by David Pearce, the natural choice to play Clough was Michael Sheen.
Sheen, known for his portrayals of Tony Blair (The Queen) and David Frost (Frost/Nixon), has—like a budding Meryl Streep—developed a reputation for pulling off virtuoso impersonations. And like Streep playing Julia Child in the woefully misdirected Julie & Julia, Sheen carries The Damned United when the film has trouble sustaining itself or knowing its direction. Is The Damned United a study of a single character, manager rivalries, the marital-like bond between professional collegues, or the relationship between coach and team? Director Tom Hopper and screenwriter Peter Morgan weren’t sure, it seems. But one thing is clear: they had a most valuable player. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to prevail.