Despite not being a football fan, football films have always seemed quite appealing to me, The Damned United, Bend it Like Beckham & Escape to Victory all have a special place in my DVD collection. United tells the story of the Manchester United football team and the events that followed the 1958 Munich air disaster. The films main focus is on the relationship between coach Jimmy Murphy (Tennant) and a young Bobby Charlton (O’Connell) and their struggles in the 1958 FA Cup.
The story of United is one of great interest; it is like many sports movies, an underdog tale (though not with the rise to triumph that one expects from this type of story) but one far different from most films. The underdogs here are not in this position because nobody believes in them but due to an accident all hope for these lads is gone, it is incredibly gripping to see how the team is rebuilt and how faith is restored in the sweetly named “Busby Babes”. The films set up runs long, it is 40 minutes into the film before we get to the main incident, but it sets the tone nicely for the film and gets a real sense of the characters (sticking to the ones who survive the dramatic incident). It is nice to see a movie taking it slow as so many decide to forget the set up and instead jump head first into the plot. It feels a little slow at points but the story United has to offer is not one to miss.
David Tennant really is wonderful, he is easily one of the greatest actors England has on offer, to see him go from the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who to his powerful portrayal of Hamlet, to his interpretation of Peter Vincent in this years remake of Fright Night (which I can’t talk about yet) and finally this stunning portrayal of a man trying desperately to try and salvage some sort of hope out of the loss his team had suffered, the amount of range he displays is stunning. But this is not Tennant’s film to carry alone; Jack O’Connell who it seems wasn’t using the talents he displays here and in Weekender when he was appearing on Skins. O’Connell offers an emotion filled performance whilst being a dead ringer for Bobby Charlton. It’s a shame that the same praise cannot be given to Dougray Scott’s portrayal of Matt Busby, true his character is supposed to be a little detached and droll but the way Scott comes off at points it seems as though he couldn’t be bothered to read the script with any emotion. Scott’s performance is the films main weak point but luckily it does not drag down the other performers.
Despite being a film made for TV this has cinematic qualities that many mainstream movies can’t seem to conjure up, the 2:35:1 ratio does a great job to emphasize these qualities. It seems very possible that director James Strong may go the way of Tom Hooper, jumping from the small screen to the large, as it seems his work already deserve to be seen on the silver screen. Apart from one mediocre performance the film is very strong with an interesting tale to tell and actors who seem passionate about what they are doing, if the BBC produced more high quality programs like this then the license fee may just be worth paying for.
None available at the time.