“ME and Jimmy here, we’re men of grass and boots and beauty.”
Manchester United manager Matt Busby (Dougray Scott) is sitting next to his assistant Jimmy Murphy (David Tennant).
Leaving Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker (Neil Dudgeon) in absolutely no doubt as to who is the boss.
You don’t need to be a football fan to appreciate BBC2 drama United, which tells the story of the Busby Babes, the Munich Air Crash and the months that followed.
My second feature on the film is in today’s Manchester Evening News – and below – ahead of a preview screening at The Lowry in Salford tonight.
And you can read the first feature here.
I’ll also post extra material from my interviews with the cast and production team in this blog later in the week.
Update: You can now view that material at United: Extra Time
WORDS tumble slowly from a shocked Manchester United secretary. “The plane crashed…the team,” she tells coach Jimmy Murphy.
“Why did nobody speak up?” asks a grieving widow, as the coffins of young players lie in a gym after the Munich Air Crash.
The doomed third attempt to take off in a blizzard which killed eight Busby Babes is depicted in powerful new drama United (BBC2, Sunday, 9pm).
It shows nervous, questioning glances from the players as they are called back to board the plane returning from a European Cup tie. Nobody spoke up, trusting all would be well.
We see increasing, massive vibration inside the aircraft before the screen goes black, then focusing on unfinished cigarettes and cups of coffee back in the terminal building.
The red and white of Manchester United is a silent dream of blood and snow on the runway. Before the nightmare sounds of wreckage, flames and death.
But the disaster that claimed the lives of 23 people and left a club, a city and a nation devastated is just one part of this film, being screened at a special preview at The Lowry tonight.
Written by Chris Chibnall, it begins in September 1956 and ends with the FA Cup Final of May 1958, a few short months after the crash, telling the story of who the Babes were and how the club rose from the ashes of the tragedy.
David Tennant plays Murphy, who helped lead the club in the dark weeks following Munich. “It’s about showing who we are to the world. Showing we’ll not be bowed by tragedy,” he tells the United board. “Because how we are in the future will be founded on how we behave today.”
Tennant comments: “Matt Busby said that Jimmy was the most important signing he ever made at Manchester United but I didn’t realise what Jimmy did after the crash.”
Murphy was not on the tragic flight which left manager Busby critically injured. The legendary Old Trafford boss is portrayed by Dougray Scott who says: “Murphy had a huge influence. He was the right-hand man and set the foundation or where Manchester United is today. As did Busby.”
The man who later became Sir Matt didn’t want to go on after the crash, wishing he had died with his players. But he changed his mind, recovered from his injuries and returned to England in time for the Wembley Cup Final.
“His wife persuaded him that that’s what the boys would have wanted him to do, to get back into football and to carry on with his vision for the football club,” explains Scott.
“But I think it haunted him for the rest of his life, as it would do. He felt terribly guilty – although it wasn’t his fault in any way, shape or form what happened.”
Sam Claflin plays Duncan Edwards, the United and England star who died in hospital 15 days after the crash. “He was one of the greatest footballers who ever lived,” reflects Claflin, who bonded with the other young actors playing the Babes.
“It’s been an incredible experience from start to finish, finding that banter that the actual boys would have had back in those days. It really is a very touching story. Hopefully we do it proud and do it justice.”
United opens with a glimpse of what is to come before returning to a time some 16 months before when Bobby Charlton had still to make it into the first team. A month later he scored twice on his debut in a 4-2 home win against Charlton.
Jack O’Connell, who plays Charlton, learned about Munich from his grandfather and also visited the Old Trafford Museum with other members of the cast and production team.
“It felt like a long time ago, when really it was only 50-odd years,” says O’Connell, who accepts there is extra responsibility playing someone who is still alive and may see his performance on screen.
“But the more I dwell on that, the less I concentrate on my job. Any critic can slate it as much as they want. But if the people themselves are satisfied with it, then we’ve won there, I reckon.”
Director James Strong faced several challenges in making the £2m drama, which includes a new song called Devotion, specially written and performed by Paul Weller.
“It took five or six years to get the money together to make the film,” says Strong. “And then there was the challenge of telling this huge period story with an air crash in the middle of it and a big ensemble cast on our budget.
“I’d worked with David before but I didn’t know if he’d be interested in it because I knew he wasn’t a massive football fan. But he phoned me that night and said, ‘I think it’s amazing.’ It appealed to him on a human level.”
He adds: “The whole thing has been done very much with the co-operation and the involvement of the survivors in terms of the research. So we’ve tried to be as accurate as possible and try and take from exactly what people said, their first-hand accounts of what it was like.
“We wanted to make it a very realistic-looking film but shot in a quite beautiful way, so we were finding the beauty in the ordinary. That was the challenge.”