Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Damned United: the idolatry of ambition

The Damned United concerns Brian Clough's ill-fated 44 day stint as manager of Leeds United. Based on fact but no doubt embellished, the film places the seven weeks Clough spent there as manager in the context of his long-running rivalry with Don Revie.

Michael Sheen is, again, brilliant and Timothy Spall provides excellent support as Clough's number 2, Peter Taylor. There's a good script which highlights Clough's arrogance, wit and pomp. The film is quick moving and held the attention even of my football-tolerating-at-best mother. There's also some beautiful photography work (my favourite scenes were those set in Brighton) which captures what I imagine the spirit of the 1970s to be perfectly.

Clough is portrayed as a flawed genius - to those of us know who anything about the man, no surprise there. His genius and his flaw root from the same place: Clough's great ambition and associated arrogance. Positively, these drive Clough to excellence and brings great hights. Negatively, they are pictured as destroying relationships with friends, family, rivals and colleagues - and lead Clough himself into misery and bitterness. (This is particularly shown in the rollercoaster-type relationship Clough has with Peter Taylor; particularly tragic to those who know how this relationship finished in real life). In short, success becomes Clough's god. He is pictured as willing to do anything in order to achieve it - and cannot live without it.

Success is something which is not wrong to pursue, nor is achievement. But The Damned United reminds the viewer that when these become ultimate, hurt of oneself and others (and regret) are bound to follow.

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