Tuesday, 27 July 2010
FILM REVIEW: THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
The Special Relationship is a term that has long been applied to the political ties between the White House and 10 Downing Street. Here, in Richard Loncraine's film, it specifically applies to US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who, from the mid to late 90's enjoyed a political bro-mance; the two centre left progressives bonding over their shared idealism.
Clinton (Dennis Quaid) was already campaigning for a second term in office when Blair (Michael Sheen) swept to power in the UK in the mid 1990s. But they had already met prior to that, where Clinton had predicted and welcomed Blair's victory, which is probably why the Brit leader is seemingly more enamored with the American than is the reverse.
As Blair's star begins to shine on the international scene, and Clinton's takes on a distinctly unpleasant taint thanks to a certain Ms Lewinsky and the threat of impeachment, the bro-mance is at first tested and then, following events in Kosovo led by Slobodan Milosevic, completely soured. Nothing can kill a relationship faster than military intervention.
Produced by, and aired on, the American pay-for-view network, HBO, The Special Relationship, penned by Peter Morgan who also penned The Queen and the other Blair-centric tele-movie, The Deal, plays much more like a small screen rather than a big screen film. Not that the performances are less than.
Quaid may not look like Bill Clinton but he gets his voice right and what you could imagine was his charming, almost boyish way which no doubt led to all sorts of female troubles. And Sheen, who could probably play Blair in his sleep (this is his third outing as the UK leader), still manages to get under the skin of the man who always looks pleased, and a little surprised, to be where he is. Good, too, are Helen McCrory as the no-nonsense Cheri Blair, and Hope Davis as First Lady Hilary Clinton.
And yet there is something lacking in the human dimension; we don't experience these political figures as “real people” in as much the same way we did with Morgan's The Queen, where Sheen, and more specifically Helen Mirren, gave us insight, however imagined, into their interior lives.
Still, as a 90-minute study of politics and the fleetingness of political popularity and allegiances, The Special Relationship is entertaining enough. But for a more entertaining and ultimately scathing take on the Clintons, I recommend Mike Nichols' 1998 film Primary Colours, where John Travolta and Emma Thompson nailed the Clintonesque couple in all their light and shade.