Damned United and An Education pit youthful smarts against English establishment (1)

The establishment seems more firmly established in England than anywhere else. Two terrific new British films depict prodigiously intelligent characters who challenge entrenched English institutions and nearly outsmart themselves along the way. The protagonists of the soccer movie The Damned United and the coming-of-age romance An Education fit in the rebellious, angry young man tradition of English drama — although Michael Sheen’s Brian Clough isn’t exactly young, and Carey Mulligan’s Jenny is most definitely not a man. Both learn the lesson that pride goeth before a fall.

The Damned United ostensibly recounts the David-and-Goliath rivalry between soccer division cellar-dwellers Derby County and England’s crowning team, Leeds United. Rather than focus on triumph-of-the-underdog clichés, screenwriter Peter Morgan cuts back and forth between Clough (Derby's manager) leading the team from obscurity to soccer glory beginning in 1968, to Clough, flush with victory, taking over as Leeds’ manager in 1974. Morgan wrote The Queen and Frost/Nixon (which also starred Sheen) and ignores biopic stereotypes in lieu of small but telling historical tipping points.

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(Photo Courtesy Kerry Brown/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)