24 April 2016 | Prometheus-101
A fantasy of the worst kind
Some people really, really dislike Tony Blair. And they're very angry with him, too. That's the overriding impression I get from this film.
At times it plays like it's been written and produced by achingly left-wing sixth formers, and if you, like them, see Blair as a one dimensional villain, then this is probably just the kind of revenge fantasy you'll relish. For anyone who sees both the man and the whole Iraq episode as a tad more complex, then it'll more than likely have you snorting with derision.
I deliberately reserve my criticism for the writer and producers because I actually think the actors are pretty good. Robert Lindsay picks up some of the verbal and physical mannerisms of Blair quite well and hints at more psychological depth than many caricatures allow. And I thought Phoebe Nicholls was excellent as Cherie, but mostly because she's a fine actress no matter what she's in. The problem is the material they're both stuck with, which is more often than not very one-note, cringingly one-sided and sometimes downright ridiculous.
Are we really to believe that everyone, and I do mean everyone, around Blair is constantly needling him about Iraq, making snide comments about his 'legacy', and mocking him openly to his face - yet somehow he either doesn't notice or just doesn't care? His assistants have apparently chosen to stay with him in his post-PM career, yet they behave as though they hold him in utter contempt all the time. Cherie seems at once to be loyal and caring, yet moments later she is distancing herself, even insisting that her name is Cherie Booth. Their relationship seemed completely wrong - again not through any fault of the actors, but rather because the script forces them into being mere mouthpieces for the writer's own heavily biased perspective. We're meant to believe that a protester would be allowed to camp outside Blair's private home and shout insults at him 24/7, even though Blair has left public office by this point and would be entitled to all the protections of any other citizen; that the US would throw Blair under a bus because it was politically expedient to do so; that the UK government would do something frankly risible at the UN in order to pave the way for a prosecution of Blair. All these details are technicalities, you might say, to create the conditions for the drama. But they mount up to such an extent that it screams desperation on the part of the writer, as he scrambles to rearrange the real world furniture in just the right order to bring about the denouement he wants. And much of it is also internally inconsistent. I simply didn't believe these characters were anything more than the writer's own voice shouting at the unfairness of the world.
The very worst moment comes when Blair is at a police station and encounters what has to be the most irksome, self-righteous, self-satisfied character ever to appear on screen. Seriously, this police man is a study in smug, insisting to Blair that his comments are not political but just him being a human being. This moment alone is so absurd in its easy moral reductionism and high self-regard that it poisons the whole piece, leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
There are some chilling, well-filmed moments of Blair having nightmarish delusions about Iraq, but mostly the filmmakers are more interested in seeing Blair suffer and be humiliated than they are in exploring any real psychological truth.
I genuinely didn't like this film. I thought it was nasty and a waste of some talented actors. Whatever your views on Iraq and Tony Blair's decisions, a fantasy polemic like this does no good at all. All it does is serve up a fictionalised version of a real human being to be hated, mocked and punished. Great drama should be about much more than that.