We call it soccer, but for the Brits it's football, and it's damn serious business. From 1968 to 1974, Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), a manager/coach from the tiny town of Derby, and his assistant manager, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), turned a third-rate club into division champs. That success wasn't nearly as sweet as getting to take over Leeds United, a top-tier team previously managed by Clough's archenemy, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). In this terrific film, television director Tom Hooper (John Adams), making his feature debut, and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) use a series of elegantly staged flashbacks to trace Clough and Taylor's rapid rise to fame and the hubris that led the former to stumble badly when he got to Leeds, while also wounding his lifelong friendship with Taylor. A movie about soccer that doesn't spend a lot of time on the field, The Damned United, like everything Morgan writes, is an intimate character study, one enriched by a stellar ensemble of British pros, including Jim Broadbent as Derby's team owner. These actors are good at what they do—like those soccer players who dodge and weave with effortless grace.
Spall (left) and Sheen celebrate, but not for long.
Opens at Seven Gables and Uptown, Fri., Oct. 23. Rated R. 98 minutes.