Magazine article The Spectator

Sporting Marriage

Magazine article The Spectator

Sporting Marriage

Article excerpt

The Damned United

15, Nationwide

The Damned United is, I suppose, a football film but if you don't like football don't let this put you off. (If you do, I'll hear about it, and then you'll be in trouble. ) I liked it enormously even though football bores me stiff and I don't know the first thing about it, although please, please - and I'm begging you here - don't take this as a cue to get all the condiments out of the cupboard and start explaining the offside rule to me or I shall have to say to you, 'Put the malt vinegar away, love, before I punch you on the nose. See how my fingers are already forming into a fist?' The thing you must understand is that when I say there will be trouble, there will be trouble. And noses might get bloodied.

Anyway, it's based on the book of the same name by David Peace and is about football manager Brian's Clough's doomed, disastrous, 44-day sojourn at Leeds United in 1974. OK, I can see that this isn't going to sell it to the non-footie crowd but stick with me, my dears, stick with me. It'll pay off in the end, as you know it always does, plus the screenplay is by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and it does star Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon; I know, what are the chances? ) who puts in yet another wondrous and compelling performance. It does make you think: is there any real-life person Sheen couldn't play? OK, I'm guessing Cher would be a stretch, but aside from her?

So what exactly do we have here? Well, we have Clough, who is all quick eyes and quiff, as well as vain, boastful, obsessive, angry and dumb. That said, though, he is also funny, smart, proud, vulnerable and fearless. I'll say this for what I now know about Brian Clough: he was extremely extreme. And we also have his trusty assistant, Peter Taylor, as played loveably by the loveable Timothy Spall. People say Spall is nothing like Taylor but, as I don't know a thing about Taylor, I can simply enjoy Spall. There has been much fretting about the authenticity of this film - he didn't look like that! ; he'd never have done that! ; Billy Bremner (who he? ) didn't have four chins! - but if you don't know anything then you can't be tormented.

At the press screening I bumped into Rod Liddle of this parish who was infuriated by this detail not being right and that detail not being right and you know what? …

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