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Old 1st May 2011, 20:53   #1
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Default BBC Film - "United"

BBC Film – “United”

The BBC production of the film ‘United’ which aired on Sunday, April 24th, was always going to be found in many ways, controversial. The sheer magnitude of the subject evokes so many emotions today, even though the tragedy happened some 53 years ago. It was always going to be difficult for the writer Chris Chibnall, the director James Strong, and the producer Julia Stannard, to conclude with a finished product that would avoid criticism. They set out to produce a film which would tell, ‘the inspirational story of a team and community overcoming terrible tragedy’.

As somebody who lived through the whole period of the Munich tragedy, and has vivid recollections of that time, I want to try and give a fair and balanced review of the programme, without allowing my emotions to cloud my judgment.

My initial reaction after watching the film for the first time was one of disappointment. This was because the film, it was littered throughout with wild inaccuracies of fact. Over the past 50 years, so much has been written about the Munich tragedy; books, articles, and also many other television and radio programmes had been produced on the subject. There is so much information out there on the subject, particularly in this electronic age. The researchers did not, in my humble opinion, do any kind of decent job to aid the writer.

I did watch the film on two more occasions and came to the conclusion that it could be categorized in the title of the old western movie, ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’. The good parts were very good, the bad parts were irritants, and the ugly parts were nonsensical and annoying.

The good parts were very good, and captured the mood of the era, and told the story in a sensitive, sympathetic, and poignant manner, especially when it came to the scenes on the aircraft immediately before, and after the accident. The scene in the gymnasium immediately after the bodies were brought back to Old Trafford was also excellently portrayed. The film certainly captured the camaraderie and togetherness of the team as they were – a bunch of young men who had a great zest for life and who lived to play football. David Tennent excelled in his role as Jimmy Murphy, even if he didn’t look anything like the boisterous Welshman. I found it very moving during the scene when Jimmy returned to Old Trafford after the Wales v Israel World Cup game, to find Alma George, Busby’s secretary, sitting there, shocked, and having to tell him of the accident. The closing scene as the ‘new’ team walked out at Wembley Stadium to face Bolton Wanderers in the 1958 FA Cup Final was a fitting end to the programme.

The bad parts as I said were irritants. Silly wild inaccuracies that could have been avoided but instead, gave the viewer the wrong impression. There was a whole litany of them, far too many to go into, but some I will highlight because I feel they need to be.

There was a scene which showed Jimmy in the pub talking to some of the young players including Duncan Edwards. They all had pints of beer in front of them – Duncan very rarely strayed into pubs, he didn’t smoke or drink.

On Bobby Charlton’s debut against Charlton Athletic in October 1956, it showed Duncan addressing one of the Charlton players and talking to him about reputations meaning nothing to him. It didn’t happen in that game. That little conversation took place a year or so earlier in a game against Newcastle United, and the player in question who Duncan addressed was Jackie Milburn.

The Boardroom scene after the accident was I feel, invented. It was said that the players were not insured – the fact is, that they were. The Chairman of United at the time was a frail little man named Harold Hardman, but the one in the film was made to look more like Louis Edwards who only joined the board a few days after the tragedy. It also showed 9 Directors sitting around the table when in fact there were only 5.

The scene where the people from Bishop Aukland walked in on Jimmy was again I think invented. Bishop Aukland did help out with some players but that was later in 1958 when Warren Bradley, Derek Lewin, and Bob Hardisty arrived at Old Trafford to help out by playing in the Reserve team.

Duncan Edwards died two days after the Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup tie, not before.

Although Cissy Charlton did meet Bobby at Harwich on his return, his brother Jack who went with her to collect him. Cissy was recovering after an operation for breast cancer at that time.
There were as I said, many more trivialities that could have been avoided.

The ‘Ugly’ parts were just that – ugly – no other word can describe them. The portrayal of Matt Busby was ridiculous. That’s not a reflection on the actor, Dougray Scott, who played the part – he has a script to follow. The part that was right though was the voice – apart from that, it was nothing like the personality, or person, that Sir Matt Busby ever was. There was never a brashness, rudeness, or edge to the great man at any time. The writer did the Busby family a great disservice by portraying him in this manner and I can understand their annoyance.

The portrayal of Bobby Charlton’s character was also very poor. It made him out to look to be shy, introverted, and with a complete lack of self confidence. That is as far from the truth as it ever could be. Before the accident Bobby was a lively kid, always with a smile upon his face and he had an effervescent personality. Bobby could be the life and soul of the party.

Mark Jones never ever captained United’s first team, nor was he ever vice-captain. Where the researchers or writer got this from I just don’t know. Roger Byrne captained the team from February 1955 until 6th February 1958 and little Johnny Berry was the vice-captain.

The only player signed one hour before the Sheffield Wednesday game was Stan Crowther – the film showed three and that just is not true.

Jimmy Murphy lead the team out at Wembley dressed in a suit not a club blazer and Bill Foulkes captained the team. Harry Gregg was fourth in line as the teams walked out at Wembley.

Although Sir Matt did visit the Wembley dressing room before that 1958 FA Cup Final, it was just to wish the players good luck – there was never any speech about the so called “Phoenix”. Where the “Phoenix” is concerned, the researchers again did not do their job.

Notwithstanding my criticisms, I suppose the question that should be asked is, did the film succeed in meeting its objectives of telling ‘the inspirational story of a team and community overcoming terrible tragedy’? I think that in the end it did, so in that way you have to give the BBC, the writer, and the production team credit. Certainly, despite the inaccuracies, it will still help today’s generation understand the meaning of what really happened at Munich.
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