Michael Sheen, bless 'im — isn't he grand at playing real-life roguish figures? After his admirable stints as Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair and David Frost, here he is as football manager Brian Clough. It's another impish portrayal, engaging and likeable but also suggesting real strength below the surface. He's a fine actor who carries this entertaining tale with aplomb.
It's based on David Peace's book about Clough's disastrous stewardship of Leeds Utd in 1974 — he lasted only 44 days on the job. The team did not take kindly to his ways and made it very difficult for him. But we also see his successful management of Derby County, the lacklustre team he was brought in to save in 1968. His fine showmanship brought the players great success in the ensuing years. These two plot strands are intertwined and serve as a good counterpoint to each other. One doesn't have to have knowledge of British football, nor even be interested in the beautiful game, to enjoy this deft effort. It captures the seedy '70s atmosphere well and Sheen is given first class support by some excellent thesps.
Meaney is terrific as hard nosed England manager Don Revie, furious at Clough's criticism of his abilities. The scene where they are interviewed together for a TV show is wonderfully acted — their constant needling done in fine style. The always under-rated Spall is persuasively subdued as Clough's right hand man Peter Taylor, a good contrast to his boss's bullishness. And Broadbent is convincingly crotchety as Sam Longson, the owner of Derby County. His description of Clough as a "northern twat" is beautifully delivered. These actors know exactly what they're doing — no trouble, no fuss — and deliver with zest and panache.
It's an agreeable romp — fast paced and amiable. It could be funnier and indeed more dramatic, but it hits its targets with precision and is bound together with confidence and good humour. Worth a look.