2009 Running time: 97 Certificate: 15 Rating: 3

Synopsis

Author David Peace's fictional account of football manager Brian Clough's short-lived stint as Leeds boss is adapted for the screen by British television director Tom Hooper. Michael Sheen steps into Old Big 'Ead's shoes to portray the legendary manager during his time as boss of both Leeds United and, previously, Derby County.

Director

  • Tom Hooper

Cast

  • Michael Sheen

  • Jim Broadbent

  • Timothy Spall

  • Colm Meaney

Review

Opening with the resignation of Don Revie (Colm Meaney) as Leeds boss and his subsequent appointment as England manager in 1974, Brian Clough soon rides into Yorkshire to lap up the limelight as he takes over the reins at the home of the English champions.

His plan was to turn them into advocates of the beautiful game, rather than the 'dark arts' specialists they became regarded as - an approach that simply didn't endear him to the tight-knit players.

But on his way to Elland Road, Clough makes a quick diversion - to Yorkshire Television studios where he spends the morning denigrating the reign of Revie, rather than taking his first training session. It's classic Clough, and a sign of things to come.

The narrative then shifts back to '68, when Clough and his faithful assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), were in charge of Derby County, resting at the foot of Division Two. Spurred on by their treatment of Revie and his Leeds team in a recent FA Cup encounter, the pair embark on a mission to make Derby the best team in the land.

And so the narrative switches between the two eras, with the Derby years slowly catching up with the period in which Clough manages to turn Leeds from league champions to relegation candidates.

Of equal importance is the relationship between Clough and his right hand man Taylor, as close to a love story as you'll ever get between two straight men. Having risen to prominence at Derby, Clough's increasing arrogance soon cost the pair a living, putting a strain on the relationship that soon came to a head when lower-league Brighton came knocking.

Hooper's cinematic debut is a mixed affair; a visual flair that perfectly encapsulates the period is blessed with some wonderful editing that tells the story from a dramatic, rather than sporting point of view.

The football scenes are fleeting, but perfectly realised as Hooper uses stock footage and minimal football acting, so often the ruin of a football-related movie, to illustrate the games that cost Clough his dream job.

Combined with original and new commentary from the likes of Tony Gubba, the football scenes are second to none, with perhaps only Stephen Graham's belly requiring some suspension of disbelief.

Yet the decision to remove the more controversial elements of the book, particularly the omission of Clough's increasing reliance on alcohol, means the film lacks the bite and edge of the novel.

That, combined with the pantomime villainy of Revie and Billy Bremner (replacing Johnny Giles as the main objector to Clough's appointment, after Giles sued the publishers) undermine what could have been a rather safe bio-pic.

Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney give Michael Sheen a good run for his money, as does Jim Broadbent as Derby chairman Sam Longson. Sheen's latest impersonation (after Tony Blair and David Frost) is probably his best, replete with pitch-perfect accent and twitchy stare, yet not even he can manage the look that Clough could employ to put a man down from a thousand yards.

By not carrying the sheer nerve of the book, yet not remaining entirely faithful to fact, Hooper's movie missed a trick. It's certainly not the best bio-pic ever made, and might not be the best football movie ever made - but it's in the top one.