I’ve used the last day or three to view (on Digital Versatile Disc) a couple of feature films that for one reason or another I missed when the local and outstanding Guildhall Arts Centre proffered them recently. Both motion pictures possessed an association football theme.
The Damned United was based on the wondrous novel by David Peace and focussed on the infamous forty-four days that Brian Clough managed Leeds United in 1974. I preferred the book. Its pages successfully portrayed the fragility of Clough, his drinking, his insecurities, his reliance on the canny and level-headed Peter Taylor, his uncontrollable ego, his strutting arrogance and his undoubted genius. The feature proved mightily entertaining though. The remarkable casting needs to be saluted. The key characters of, inter alia, Don Revie, Billy Bremner and Taylor were represented accurately and wittily while Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Clough was utterly remarkable and completely mesmerizing. I noted and appreciated the film’s successful attempts to sum up soccer in the 1970s with its complex concoction of brutality and bewitching skills, muddy fields of play, the peeling paint of the stadia and array of multifaceted characters on and off the proverbial park. The Damned United (movie) was a pleasure, an agreeable and nostalgic glimpse at a footballing era that lacked the finesse and moneyed (excuse the pun) sheen of today’s sport but remains forty-four times more interesting.
Looking For Eric was tremendously pleasurable. I was concerned that veteran director Ken Loach had crossed the line into a rather gimmicky realm by making a film where the central character, downtrodden postman Eric Bishop, enjoys an imaginary relationship with retired footballing genius Eric Cantona. However, the two interact beautifully as the Frenchman offers up philosophical gems and more earthy maxims in advising the hapless Bishop to face up to a series of dismal circumstances. The postman’s relationships with his ex-wife, his stepsons, his daughter and his tight-knit colleagues are examined with warmth and intelligence and glimpses into a somewhat bleak life are handled tenderly and, while all the social-realist boxes are ticked, there are enough happy outcomes to warm the hardest of hearts. The interplay between a host of beautifully painted characters is exquisitely and subtly created and this viewer found the camaraderie and community spirit of Bishop’s friends especially striking. Several stunning set-pieces raise laughter, arouse fear or anguish and provoke thought while the final scenes, vivid and unusual, conclude the narrative really satisfyingly. Looking For Eric is an understated and lovingly constructed nugget and I recommend it willingly.