Clough film is enjoyable but a clear piece of fiction
Michael Sheen has successfully impersonated Tony Blair on television and in the film “The Queen” followed by a less convincing portrait of David Frost in “Frost/Nixon”.
He can now be viewed in British cinemas playing charasmatic English soccer manager Brian Clough during his 44 nightmare days at Leeds United in the film based on the 2006 novel “The Damned United”.
As always Sheen gets the accent spot on and the mannerisms seem accurate in a production gentler in tone than David Peace’s novel, praised by one reviewer as “probably the best novel ever written about sport”.
The period detail – England in 1974 — is acutely observed and the football scenes merge appropriately grainy television footage of the time with inevitably less convincing shots of actors playing footballers to suspend skilfully enough the disbelief of all but the most critical audiences.
All in all, the film is an enjoyable romp through the era of power cuts, militant unions, soaring inflation, good pop music and appalling fashion sense at a time when footballers still formed part of the local community.
So why the pervading unease over the portrayal of the best manager of his time during his ill-fated venture at Elland Road?
Clough’s widow Barbara and her family have expressed their horror at both book and film. Johnny Giles, the Irish midfielder depicted as a key participant in Clough’s downfall at Leeds, read the book and did not like what he saw.
Giles took legal action against the publishers and was awarded an undisclosed sum in an out-of-court settlement.
“I was totally misrepresented in the book,” Giles told the Irish television channel RTE, where he now works as a pundit.
“There were fictitious conversations between me and Clough and he wrote about incidents that never took place. But the way that Brian Clough was portrayed was outrageous. Absolutely outrageous.
“The Clough family are very upset about it and quite rightly so. I was there and most of the things that were written did not happen. This guy (Peace) says that fiction is sometimes more truthful than fact. That’s arty farty nonsense as far as I’m concerned.”
Giles enters into territory where athletes rarely venture. His blunt conclusion, though, will be endorsed by those dismayed by a deliberate blurring of fact and fiction in the search for an allegedly higher truth.
Clough, whose inner demons are explored by Peace through extensive passages of that hackneyed literary device stream of consciousness, died five years ago.
The dead can not be libelled. Unlike Giles, Clough’s family and the family of the former Leeds manager Don Revie and the family of the late captain Billy Bremner, whose treatments in both book and film are unsympathetic, have no redress.
In his 1962 black and white classic “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, director John Ford examined the passing of the old west.
The film’s central flashback reveals that the respected senator played by James Stewart was not the man who disposed of the villainous Valance. Instead it was the forgotten rancher Tom Doniphon portrayed by John Wayne. The true story is never revealed.
“When the legend becomes fact print the legend,” says a newspaper editor. A wonderful quote when the characters are invented. An altogether more disturbing line when they are real.
PHOTO: Brian Clough, who died in 2004, takes charge of his final game for Nottingham Forest before retiring from management, May 1, 1993. REUTERS