A singularly powerful image from “United”, BBC films moving account of the 1958 Munich air disaster which killed several members of the legendary Manchester United team known as the “Busby Babes”. The film, beautifully crafted on a fairly small budget focuses on Jimmy Murphy, Uniteds’ assistant coach rather than on manager Matt Busby (Dougray Scott) who it must be said is represented as a somewhat shadowy figure to put it kindly by the film-makers.
Murphy on the other hand, a fiery Welshman played with great zest by David Tennant is shown in a more sympathetic light as we see him first mold these kids ,amongst them a promising young Geordie by the name of Bobby Charlton (Jack O’Connell) into the formidable footballing talents of their generation and then in the wake of the crash help to rebuild the club from the ashes thus creating the foundations for the incredible achievements that would make Manchester United a name to be reckoned with in world football in the decades to follow.
United, directed by Jack Strong and scripted by Chris Chibnall is a respectful, touching account of events before, during and after the disaster seen mostly through the eyes of the clubs emerging new talent Bobby Charlton. Murphy takes this fledgling talent under his wing and Charlton soon develops a strong friendship and alliance with the strapping England centre forward Duncan Edwards(Sam Claflin)
We see Charlton struggle to break into the team which after much persistence he finally does in 1956, becoming part of the formidable “Busby Babes” who go on to win the English League title in 1957 and qualify for the next seasons European Cup, then in it’s formative stages.
The team progress to the semi-finals to face Redstar Belgrade of Yugoslavia in the first leg but on their return their plane is forced to land in Munich for refuelling and it is there on that fateful runway that tragedy strikes and on a third takeoff attempt, the planes engines stalled in the snowy conditions causing it to crash and killing twenty of the forty four people on board including eight members of the Manchester United team.
Director Strong uses strong, stark imagery (such as the one above) to portray the crash and it’s painful aftermath showing us the unfolding of the events through Charlton’s eyes as he slowly emerges into consciousness, his airplane seat thrown far from the wreckage. Strong doesn’t hold back from depicting the more horrific details showing us the full extent of the grief, terror and confusion that was surely part of that terrible night. Flames burst forth from the planes wreckage scorching the wintry landscape and scarring those who survived for life.
A haunting elegy to a bygone era and a deeply felt paean to the spirit of resilience in the face of overwhelming sadness.