The Nation's Health + [USA]

The Special Relationship (a highly intelligent political drama)

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Politicians Scrap

The Special Relationship opens with a quote from Oscar Wilde, which reads “true friends stab you in the front”. It is an appropriate statement, considering this is a dramatisation of the relationship between United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair and American President Bill Clinton.

The audience are introduced to an idealistic young Blair (Michael Sheen) who, as the leader of his country's opposition, comes to Washington in 1992 to learn from the success of the Clinton administration. Fast forward four years and Blair has taken government and is being encouraged to establish a `special relationship' with the United States through a friendship with Clinton (Dennis Quaid). However, as the pair begin to bond over their ideals and work together on various crisis', news of the Lewinsky scandal breaks and their friendship is put to the test.

Written by Peter Morgan, this is the third film in his informal `Blair trilogy' which started with The Deal in 2003, followed by The Queen in 2006. Sheen played Blair in both of those films, and it is an achievement of his acting talent that he has not become complacent in the role. His performance continues to be utterly captivating and bring a new sense of competency with the duplicated speech, mannerisms and physicality. The Special Relationship centres on Blair's transformation from a political hopeful to powerful world player, and Sheen charts this development well.

Quaid as Clinton is a unique sight, with his weathered good looks replaced with white hair, white eyerbrows and that signature accent. But once you can stop gut-laughing, Quaid is decent as one of America's most notorious Presidents. Sheen and Quaid bounce off each other, with Blair essentially the dorky kid in high school trying to befriend the cool jock that is Clinton. In the supporting cast, Mark Bazeley does a solid job of reprising his role of Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell from The Queen and Hope Davis is fierce as Hilary Clinton.

The performances really add to what is already a fascinating story, thanks to Morgan's compelling script and the opportunity for the actors to recreate some of the famous speeches from the period. Archive footage and news grabs are used to great effect, linking events and moving the story forward in a hasty fashion. From the White House to the Palace of Westminster, the locations are impressive and the production overall is strongly directed by Richard Loncraine.

Despite being a highly intelligent political drama, the element which makes The Special Relationship stand out from other films in the genre is it still manages to be entertaining. Wedged between the intense character discussions are lovely comedic moments and plenty of colour, which insure the appeal of the film is never lost to the audience. It seems unusual to me that in the US this didn’t get a cinematic release, but screened as a telemovie on HBO. Personally I think there would have been a market for it and am glad we Aussie audiences are getting a chance to see it in theatres, rather than split up over two nights like in the UK. Even for those who are not interested in politics or this particularly fascinating chapter in modern history, this film has plenty to offer viewers looking for a good time at the movies. The Special Relationship opens in cinemas August 5.

P.S. For those of you playing at home, TSR is up for five Emmy Awards, count em, five! Quaid and Sheen are both up for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Davis is up for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Morgan is up for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special and the overall film is up for Outstanding Made For Television Movie.

The Special Relationship (a highly intelligent political drama), 9 out of 10 [based on 687 votes]