Leeds United. Derby County. The FA Cup. Those who speak the language of English football are ahead of the game when it comes to enjoying The Damned United, about a brief, blighted chapter in the professional life of legendary football manager Brian Clough. Fans already know that Clough, who died in 2004, lasted exactly 44 days as manager of reigning football champs Leeds United in 1974 — a period this rousing British sports pic dramatizes with fierce verve. For the rest — just guessing, the majority of Americans? — what’s lost in translation is recovered easily enough in Michael Sheen’s astonishing performance as Clough.
It’s no accident that Sheen displays some of the same incisive understanding of human ? inconsistency and political strategy that he demonstrated in The Queen and Frost/Nixon: Peter Morgan wrote all three screenplays, adapting this script from David Peace’s acclaimed ? novel The Damned Utd. Meanwhile, director Tom Hooper, who won heaps of awards for HBO’s John Adams, turns the talk of men into action scenes. The great cast includes Timothy Spall as the assistant manager, Colm Meaney as Clough’s nemesis, and Jim Broadbent as a sports exec who’d make George Steinbrenner nervous. B+