To set the record straight, United is not a football movie. If you’re looking for a new addition to the list of films that hinge on a series of choreographed, sometimes recreated games, like Mean Machine or Escape to Victory, you won’t get your fix. Best to get that out the way first, and to establish that this is first and fore-most a historical football drama, with very little of the actual game played in it… but maybe anyone familiar with the history of the ‘Busby Babe’s’ wouldn’t have it any other way.
From an unexpected rise to nationwide glory, to the devastating loss of eight players in the Munich air disaster, United follows the legendary Manchester United squad of the late 1950’s who helped define an era. Focusing on Coach Jimmy Murphy (David Tennant), the then young Bobby Charlton (Jack O’Connell) and club manager Matt Busby (Dougray Scott) the film tries to recreate the feeling of hope a nation had to regain after unimaginable tragedy.
Put bluntly the movie is a lot stronger in its first half, focusing on some (though noticeably not all) of the doomed players and their friendships, Bobby’s introduction to the team and the tensions Busby had with the football league. When we reach the film’s disaster ridden middle-point we genuinely feel for the character’s loss, and the feeling of hopelessness left with those remaining. Unfortunately the latter part of the film is left to walk that fine line between transposing tragedy and overdoing the drama, perhaps falling too far into the latter category. The dialogue, full of wit and character in the film’s first few scenes, even seems to turn into woeful lines that kill the atmosphere
The everlasting problem with the bio-drama as a genre is that real life events don’t always wrap themselves well around a screenplay, and though attempts are made to make the team’s return to the field a triumphant rise from the ashes it feels a little underwhelming, largely due to a lack of attention to the new players that brought them back. Perhaps if certain elements, such as the country’s undying support, or the wishes of those bereaved by the accident, were emphasized more it could have retained the youthful optimism that made the earlier parts of the film so watchable.
Arguably now a Michael Caine or Peter O’Toole of his time, David Tennant is however what keeps the latter act together, carrying the full emotional weight in his performance. Also rounding off a set of roles that help exhibit his impressive range, Jack O’Connell is fantastic in portraying the renowned Manchester United player as a newcomer and underdog asked to do the impossible. All the supporting cast fill their roles well, except for the big boss Busby. Already heavily criticized (notably by the son of the late club owner) as a ‘gangster-like’ character, Dougray Scott feels out of place and almost totally unbelievable in his role.
For a production originally premiered on BBC 2, the filming and production values are largely impressive; the look and feel of the era is encapsulated seamlessly, notable pictures and events are recreated with intricacy and the use of CG effects blends in with the array of accents to become almost unnoticeable.
United works in capturing a country’s grief over one of football’s greatest injustices, but in expressing the rekindled glory of the team it falters heavily. Nevertheless, the performances are some of the best British talent has to offer, and it’s a well made retelling of history that, if anything, should show fans of the game today a time where football didn’t have such a bad reputation, and where a single match could capture the attention of millions, regardless of allegiance to a club name.
Words > Graham Ashton
United tells the gripping story of the team that defined an era, and a disaster that tore them apart, starring David Tennant, Dougray Scott, and Jack O’Connell, released onto DVD on 8th August by Revolver Entertainment.
Based on the true story of Manchester United’s celebrated “Busby Babes”, the youngest side ever to win the Football League, and the 1958 Munich air crash that claimed eight of their number.
Rhythm Circus will have a review of the film online shortly, in the meantime why not enter our competition to win one of 3 copies of the film on DVD courtesy of our friends at Revolver Entertainment.
Simply tell us which famous Doctor David Tennant made his name portraying:
A) Dr Shipman
B) Dr Who
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Check out the trailer below. You can also preorder the DVD at Amazon here.