Peter Morgan’s back-to-back screenplays that were adopted films Frost/Nixon
and The Damned United both had special appeal to me. As a junkie of American political history and English football (soccer) history, probably my two favorite topic areas were covered within a year in movies that starred Michael Sheen as the key men of the film – David Frost and Brian Clough.
Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Frost/Nixon is riveting. It’s one of my favorite political movies – up there with The (original) Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and The Candidate. The screenplay which is a jazzed up version of the Frost/Nixon interviews from 1977, where Richard Nixon finally admitted he had put the nation through great pain in the Watergate scandal and that he in fact made more than mistakes – he may have crossed the line into illegalities (may even though the movie claims he admitted he did – watch the original interviews – Frost/Nixon: Complete Interviews (Two-Disc Special Edition).
Tom Cooper ‘s Damned United film taken from Morgan’s screenplay was based originally on David Peace’s controversial book The Damned Utd: A Novel about Clough’s ill-fated 44-day stint as Manager of English soccer (then) powerhouse Leeds United. Clough, a charismatic footballer whose career was cut short was so popular in much of the north of England, the Labour Party often considered running him for office. Clough was a strong Labour man and his working class roots coupled with his disdain for Tory Conservatives and the south of England comes out often in the film – set before Margaret Thatcher’s divisive policies permanently scarred the north and made the regional division more or less psychologically permanent in that nation.
Both movies were based on historical events but take extreme creative license to make a good movie. The historical inaccuracies were obvious when I saw both films in the theater. For example, Frost wasn’t down on his luck in the way the movie portrayed when he sought the Nixon interviews and it is well-known he was involved in a relationship with Caroline Cushing long before the British Airways flight from London to Los Angeles for the interviews taping. In The Damned United, it is implied that Clough never manages Brighton Hove & Albion even though he did for a season, and the depiction of Johnny Giles the great Irish player of that era who almost himself managed Leeds United was wholly inaccurate according to the man himself.
The movies similarities include embellished late night drunken calls that simply did not happen. In Frost/Nixon. a drunk Nixon calls a shaken Frost late at night to set the scene for the final interview about Watergate. Sheen playing Clough calls his Leeds United predecessor and professional rival Don Revie and says “you must be loving this!” to which Revie responds “who is this?” Neither phone call occurred though it is worth noting the Yorkshire TV interview toward the end of The Damned United film did happen although some of the context is inaccurate in the film.
Both movies irrespective of historical inaccuracies are outstanding. The Damned United scores 93% on Rotten Tomatoes while Frost/Nixon scores 92%. Sometimes with non-fiction films creative license is taken to simplify plots and make the film which after all usually has little time to hook you very compelling. Sheen’s performances in both films are masterful, much like his portrayal of Tony Blair in the trilogy of films about former British Prime Minister.