Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 09:20 UK

Bringing Big 'Ead to the big screen

By Mark Simpson
BBC North of England correspondent

Brian Clough with Leeds United in 1974
The film looks at Brian Clough's ill-fated stint in charge of Leeds in 1974

He was known as "Old Big 'Ead", so Brian Clough would not have been surprised to know a film is being made about him.

But fans of the late, great football manager might want to watch the film, The Damned United, from behind a sofa.

Rather than focusing on his remarkable victories in two European Cup finals with Nottingham Forest, the movie concentrates on the low point of his career, his 44-day nightmare as Leeds United boss.

With some fruity language and lots of finger-jabbing, Clough is portrayed as a flawed genius.

Back in the 1970s, he himself struggled to find any faults with his own ability.

He once said: "Rome wasn't built in a day... but I wasn't on that particular job".

Actor Michael Sheen in character as Brian Clough

The actor given the near-impossible task of capturing Clough in looks and voice is Michael Sheen, better known for his role as Tony Blair in the film The Queen.

"Each character is unique," says Sheen during a break from filming at Leeds United's Elland Road ground.

"This [movie] is my two passions coming together. I used to play a lot of football when I was younger. I possibly could have had a career in it.

"Then I got to about 14, met girls, you know, started drinking, smoking and all that kind of thing and then got into acting."

The film, based on the book by David Peace, is costing 5m and is due to be released in cinemas next year.

More than 20,000 of that money has already gone into turning the concrete car park at Elland Road into a grass pitch to try to recreate the 1970s training facilities.

Michael Sheen as Brian Clough
Chesterfield's Saltergate ground was used to recreate Derby's stadium

Filming has already taken place at Chesterfield's Saltergate ground, which was painted dark green and made to look like the old Baseball Ground, where Derby County played when Clough was their successful manager.

It all turned sour for Cloughie when he arrived at Leeds in the summer of 1974. Appointed for his brilliance, he was undone by his arrogance and his abrasive approach to a team of thin-skinned superstars who had just won the league.

The previous manager, Don Revie, was a winner, but the team did not have the panache Clough wanted. He tried to change the style and take on the stars, with disastrous consequences.

The film's producer Andy Harries - the drama controller behind the hit TV series Cold Feet - describes the movie's portrayal of Clough as "affectionate and amusing".

He says: "We're not going to sell it as a comedy, but it is a funny film because Clough was such a character.

Brian Clough in 1993
Clough retired from management in 1993 and died four years ago

"But it is dark in parts. I don't think the film is anything like as dark as the book.

"The book is told through Clough's own mind, the film doesn't do that at all. The film tells the story in a much more straight, narrative way."

Even so, he admits that Clough sometimes appears to be approaching lunacy.

"There are some pretty mad scenes, which are also very funny scenes," he says.

Others actors involved include Jim Broadbent as Derby chairman Sam Longson, Timothy Spall as Clough's assistant Peter Taylor and Colm Meaney as Don Revie.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the movie-makers is making it watchable for anyone under 40 who isn't a football fan and has never heard of Brian Clough.

The quirky title - The Damned United - may attract wider interest.

Mind you, there were not many alternatives.

There has, of course, already been a Life of Brian.

Sheen granted home town 'freedom'
30 May 08 |  South West Wales
Extras needed for Clough picture
14 May 08 |  Derbyshire
Queen director Clough film hopes
16 Feb 07 |  Mid Wales
Obituary: Brian Clough
20 Sep 04 |  Football
Brian Clough timeline
21 Sep 04 |  Football

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