Making the Grades
Brain Clough (played by Michael Sheen) is the manager of a second division football club (North American audiences would call it soccer), whose greatest ambition is not to beat another team but instead another man. Ever since his first meeting with Don Revie (played by Colm Meaney), the manager of Leeds United, Clough has harbored a hurt at being slighted by the celebrated head of England’s top club.
While the offense serves as great motivation to push his own Derby County players into the first division, his bitterness continuously sours their every success. Meanwhile, he hypocritically ignores his own underling, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), whose brilliant assistance accounts for at least half of Clough’s achievements.
Eventually Clough is offered a chance to manage Leeds United himself. Yet the score he hopes to settle with their former leader only makes the team more loyal to Revie. Nor does Clough’s past history of accusing the cursed United club of playing dirty improve his relationship with the athletes. Long used to injuring their opponents and bullying the referees to get their win (depictions of their brutal style accounts for much of the violent content in the film), the men turn their tactics on the new manager.
Based on a novel by David Peace, this look at the real life career of Brian Clough and his 44-day term as manager of Leeds United in 1974 may not be the sports movie most viewers are expecting. Focusing on the mental rivalry Clough engages in with Revie rather than the action on the field, the production becomes much more of a study on human pride.
I must confess, after watching Clough flaunt his arrogant attitude and bark out plentiful profanities (especially the sexual expletive) throughout the film, I had a hard time sympathizing with this grudge-holding underdog, even though he has a more sportsmen-like approach to the game. Yet I suspect the makers of this movie intended to create a slightly more flattering tribute to this football figure and his legacy to the sport.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Damned United.
How does Cloughs inability to shake off the offense of being ignored by someone as important as Don Revie impact his whole life? Do you feel Revie really intended to snub Clough? Does Revie appear to be affected by (or even aware of) Cloughs grudge? How are other people harmed by Cloughs obsession to prove himself equal or better than this man? In what ways can real or imaged slights impact our own lives?