6 November 2010 | freemantle_uk
The not so Special Relationship
Peter Morgan obviously has two obsessions in his life, Tony Blair and Michael Sheen. He is one of the few big name writers around and after looking at the rise of Tony Blair and how he dealt with the death of Princess Diana, he tackles his first few years a Prime Minister and his friendship with Bill Clinton.
The Special Relationship starts in 1992 with Tony Blair's (Sheen) famous visit to America after Bill Clinton (Dennis Quiad) was elected President and in 1996 when as Leader of the Opposition was given almost a state visit by the President. As Prime Minister Blair and Clinton become close friends, believing they could usher in a new centre left progressive age around the world. They work closely together during the Northern Ireland peace process and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, before differing over Kosovo.
Morgan is of course a very talented writer, with The Jury, The Deal, The Last King of Scotland and Frost/Nixon all being excellent pieces of work. In a 90 minute package Morgan tries to cover as much ground as possible: anyone interested in government and politics will be hooked to the film. But this is a blurred vision of what happened and this is a fiction because we really don't know what happened behind closed doors. Morgan sets out to show Blair and Clinton were friends more on a political level then a personal level, with Clinton and his staff more willing to ignore Blair. This is a slightly bias account because Morgan ignores that Alistair Campbell (Mark Bazeley) was in reality a vile piece of work when it came to power and the media, always looking for a fight or that Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) is the type of woman who enjoys all the benefits of power, such as nice shopping trips and getting free gifts. The film also suffers from the benefit of hindsight, with Clinton predicting a new progressive age, considering that he was suffering from a right-wing Republican Congress and America is a right-wing country, coming up with characters that are even worst (Bush Jr. and Sarah Palin), or that Blair seeing it as the West's moral duty to go into Kosovo, leading to some of his arguments with Iraq. The political discussions and philosophy is interesting, but it would have been good to have more of how government and international relations functions.
Sheen has made the role of Tony Blair his own and no one else could command that role like he does. He is able to show Blair as either a caring man who thinks he is doing what he thinks is doing the right thing to a selfish man who is only interested in power for himself. But Quiad was a poor choice as Clinton. Quiad was obviously trying his best but he did not have to the look nor able to capture his voice or mannerisms. The other supporting actors were also strong performances.
Richard Loncraine does have a form making TV movies, with The Gathering Storm being an award winning film. Considering the material could be dry he was able to tell an fast paced film, balancing the different plots, but it was clear he was working with a limited budget. Many of the scenes were internal and stock footage was used. Loncraine and Morgan should have made The Special Relationship should have been grander, either with electioneering, the planning for the work or the on going struggles the two politicians had to face. It would have been great to see how someone like Aaron Sorkin would have handled the material with his flair and knowledge of politics. Loncraine is not Stephen Freers who handled Morgan's previous Morgan and Sheen originally wanted to make a film about Blair and Bush Jr. but thought that relationship with Clinton was more interesting. That is true because it was more of a partnership between Blair and Clinton because under Bush Blair just gave in to him on everything, Iraq, mission defence and extradition and got nothing in return. Under Bush Blair was a puppet and we all remember during the 2006 Lebanon War Bush just dismissing Blair, with Blair not standing up to Bush. Bush and the neo-cons were so dogmatic that if anyone dogmatic that they set out to destroy or ignore any one who criticised them. It was his way or no way.