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The United Way Documentary film review

★★★★

Directed by: #MatHodgson

Documentary film review by: Brian Penn

 
The United Way (2021)

Football is now a global phenomenon fuelled by TV companies and a corporate bandwagon eager to share the spoils. But the game has its roots in the working class pockets of Great Britain where it became a diversion from the daily grind of life. The United Way is a touching portrait of Manchester United, and how it grew from the community to become one of the world’s greatest football clubs. Constantly living in the shadow of its own achievement the pendulum has swung from tragedy to triumph. At the heart of the piece is Eric Cantona, an infuriating genius with a penchant for drama in the theatre of dreams.


The film begins with Cantona on stage facing an empty auditorium. It sets the scene for a gently unfolding tale with contributions from major figures in the club’s history. The maxim of legendary manager Matt Busby soon comes to the fore; the need to entertain and send fans home with a smile on their faces. Give them reassurance their team works hard for them as they return to the factory. The 1958 Munich air crash is a key reference point; the unbearable loss of 23 lives including 8 members of a team ready to dominate Europe. The story spins forward ten years to 1968 as United win the European Cup for the first time. For Busby, it was vindication and laid to rest the guilt of having taken his boys into Europe in the first place. The dream that died on a Munich runway had been fulfilled.


The post Busby years are well represented as the quest to find a suitable replacement gathered pace. The narrative reaches a crescendo with the arrival of Alex Ferguson in 1986. He signs Eric Cantona in 1992 as they bid to end United’s famine of 26 years without the league title.


The United Way is a slick and solidly produced film that ticks all the boxes. However, football fans will find nothing here that isn’t already known. Aside from some unseen footage, there are no revelations or insights to stir the interest. Eric Cantona’s decrees are eloquent but occasionally annoying, and feel like a showreel for his next audition. For those new to the subject it presents an effective assessment of the game’s social and cultural significance. However, the united way is not the exclusive property of any one club but belongs to the game as a symbol of what sporting endeavour can achieve.


The United Way is released on 10 May on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download and launching on Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW May 24

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