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‘United’ looks at the rise of Man United following the 1958 tragedy that befell ‘Busby Babes’

The cast of United, a BritBox sports drama feature. Picture: BBC

The cast of United, a BritBox sports drama feature. Picture: BBC

Published May 23, 2022

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Football fan or not, the latest movie on BritBox, “United”, is one to watch.

It is based on the true story of Manchester United’s celebrated “Busby Babes”, the youngest side to win the Football League, and the 1958 Munich air crash that claimed the lives of eight of its players.

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In the aftermath of the tragedy, the critically injured Matt Busby (played by Dougray Scott) was filled with remorse over his decision to charter the plane for a pivotal kick-off game.

He also made the grave mistake of not insuring the players, which compounded the club’s gloomy future.

The cast includes David Tennant as coach Jimmy Murphy, Philip Hill Pearson as Eddie Colman, Thomas Howes as Mark Jones, Sam Claflin as Duncan Edwards and Jack O’Connell as Bobby Charlton.

David Tennant as coach Jimmy Murphy. Picture: BBC

In a recent interview, Tennant shed light on his role and the poignancy of the film.

He admitted: “I’ve worked with James Strong (director) and Chris Chibnall (writer) several times before and James sent me the script. I knew it would be worth reading because it came from him. I’m not a football expert but I was completely bowled over by the incredible story and journey that Manchester United went on.

“I thought that if it had grabbed and moved me as much as that, then clearly the story must be universal, worth telling and something I wanted to be part of.”

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Expanding on how the tragedy is tackled, he said: “The film is about all sorts of things because what happened is so extraordinary. On a very basic level, it’s a true story but it also looks at the arbitrary nature of fate, the capriciousness of life and the triumph of the human spirit.

“The film deals with how we put ourselves together after tragedy because people cope with grief in so many different ways. We’re telling an utterly compelling and dramatic story as it happened.

“As I started to research this, I realised there’s a fair amount of quibbling over detail but the basic facts of the story are indisputable.

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“The film also follows the relationship between Jimmy and Bobby Charlton. You see him finding Bobby, nurturing and bringing him through. It was a hugely important relationship for both of them.”

Famed for doing crime thrillers, Tennant did his research before inhabiting the character.

“I’d never heard of Jimmy Murphy, which is shocking considering what he did,” he said. “That’s part of what I like about the fact we’re telling this story. 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.

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“When you’re playing a real person, there’s a balance between playing the person in the script and playing the person as he was in life. You have to be respectful and true to who that person was but, at the same time, tell the story in the film.”

Tennant also got to meet Murphy’s family, who were “incredibly welcoming and helpful” with insight into his life.

When asked how he feels Manchester United changed after the tragedy, he said: “It’s difficult to know because I wasn’t around, so all I can go on is written accounts of the time.

“I get the sense that what happened in Munich in 1958, how the team coped with it and how they came back from the brink, was possibly the beginning of Manchester United as the kind of world football team they are today.

“The way they conducted themselves and struggled back with such dignity and fight has inspired an international love for the team and that is due, in no small part, to what Jimmy did.”

The powerful script was inspired by first-hand interviews with survivors and family members.

“United” stirs emotions as it looks at how the extraordinary spirit of a community rebuilt the team in the aftermath of the crash.

“United” is streaming on BritBox. The movie first released in 2011.

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