The idea of a drama based around football might be off-putting. Until you hear about the likes of Dougray Scott and David Tennant being involved. And the continually brilliant Clint Mansell contributing the score. This isn't a film just for Manchester United fans, or even a film just for football fans. 'United' is the story of human tragedy surrounding the 1958 Munich Air Crash.
The film's basis is the 1958 aeroplane crash in Munich, an incident which caused the deaths of several passengers, including many of the Manchester United first team - the celebrated "Busby Babes". 'United' examines the events leading up to the accident and its aftermath through the eyes of young footballer Bobby Charlton (Jack O'Connell) and coach Jimmy Murphy (David Tennant).
The contrast between the football then and now is made clear. The ideal of playing for the fans and not just fame and money is particularly portrayed through the interactions of Murphy and Charlton, as he establishes himself in the team. 'United' captures the human, emotional origins of what is now very much a business.
The footballing culture however is something of an aside - the film explores how the characters deal with tragedy and triumph over adversity. In much the same way that 'The Damned United' did, 'United' highlights the importance of the overlooked assistant - in this case, Jimmy Murphy, who ensured that Manchester United would continue in the absence of the injured manager, Matt Busby (Dougray Scott), and the loss of almost the entire first team.
Like much of 'United', how much of Murphy's story is true is unclear but this film is a drama not a documentary. And many of the film's dramatic and heartfelt moments come through Bobby Charlton as he struggles to cope with the loss of his team-mates - who he considers not just as fellow footballers but his closest friends.
The acting is largely impressive but some of the accents are distracting, particularly Tennant's fluctuating Welsh and Scott's almost incomprehensible drawl - although supposedly the latter replicates Sir Matt Busby remarkably well. I suspect many of the cast members will go onto bigger productions and perhaps director James Strong too will follow a similar career path to Tom Hooper, from 'The Damned United' to Oscar-winning glory.
The film ends on a disappointing note as the story feels unfinished at that point - a by-product of being a production for the BBC and hence coming with the need for a strict time limit. 'United' being steeped in non-fictional history, however, we know there is a happy ending. Or at least something resembling one, considering the circumstances.
'United' is the story of how tragedy can be overcome - a story that apppeals to football fans and non-football fans alike. A spirited tribute not just to those who died in Munich but the people that revived the club from its darkest moment.
- Preparing To Be United featurette
- Behind The Scenes featurette
- Deleted Scenes (with commentary)
- Feature Commentary
Purchase 'United' at your local retailer, Amazon.co.uk etc.