Seeing The Damned United is like watching Stockport County on a bad day, writes Paul Fennessy.
FOLLOWING DAVID PEACE’S well-received cult novel, screenwriter Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen have collaborated again (after their previously successful work on The Queen and Frost-Nixon) for The Damned United. Directed by Tom Hooper, this screen adaptation provides a partly fictionalised account of Brian Clough’s disastrous 44 day period in charge of Leeds United.
The film elects to portray Clough in an affectionate manner. Although it alludes to his flaws (excessive drinking and impulsiveness), it also shows his talent as a manager and his capacity to exhibit a scabrous wit.
The plot documents the extraordinary success Clough enjoyed with Derby County, intermixed with scenes depicting his troublesome stint at Leeds, the most successful football club in England during the early Seventies.
Unlike in previous efforts, Morgan has on this occasion failed to deliver an adequate script. The translation from novel to screen was always going to be difficult given that Peace’s book comprises largely of interior monologues.
The central problem lies with The Damned United’s tone, which does not seem to work within the context of a film. Clough’s personality, as is made evident, incorporated the dual characteristics of humour and melancholia.
However, in attempting to convey both these traits, the film mirrors its protagonist’s bipolar nature and cannot decide whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy.
Accordingly, the resulting hour and a half of film lacks any discernible potency. Instead the audience merely receives glimpses of (mostly unfunny) northern British humour aligned with instances identifying the insecurities and darker feelings haunting Clough – Citizen Kane meets the Chuckle Brothers to be precise.