Sony embraces ‘Damned United’

Pic about U.K. soccer legend to travel

LONDON — Sony Pictures Entertainment has acquired worldwide rights to “The Damned United,” a biopic of legendary English soccer coach Brian Clough, to be directed by Tom Hooper from a script by Peter Morgan.

Sony will finance the $10 million project alongside BBC Films, which developed it with producer Andy Harries of Left Bank Pictures, and Screen Yorkshire. Shooting starts May 25.

Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in “The Queen,” the previous collaboration between Morgan and Harries, is set to play Clough. Tim Spall will take the role of his sidekick Peter Taylor, Colm Meaney will play rival coach Don Revie, and Jim Broadbent will be the chairman of Derby County, one of the clubs that Clough coached to success.

“The Damned United” was originally being pre-sold by Ealing Studios Intl., with Optimum Releasing set to take U.K. rights. But with the indie financing structure proving tough to close, Deborah Schindler, president of SPE’s Intl. Motion Picture Production Group, made a worldwide offer that the producers couldn’t refuse.

The project is adapted from Dave Peace’s novel, set in 1974 but flashing back to the 1960s, about Clough’s ill-fated 44-day reign as coach of Leeds United, then one of England’s most successful soccer teams.

The flamboyant, unconventional Clough became a coach after his brilliant playing career was cut short by injury. He lifted small-time club Derby to the championship by sheer force of personality, but when he took over at Leeds, a team he publicly despised for their cynical style, he fell out spectacularly with the senior players and was swiftly fired.

Hooper most recently helmed the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” and before that won acclaimed for the Brit telepics “Longford” (also written by Morgan) and “Elizabeth I,” which won him a best director Emmy.

Since “The Queen,” Morgan has scripted the bigscreen adaptation of his own play “Frost/Nixon” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.”

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