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The Special Relationship - Review

The Special Relationship

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE Special Relationship marks the third in Peter Morgan’s ‘Tony Blair trilogy’ and is a hugely enjoyable account of the friendship between Britain’s Prime Minister and US President Bill Clinton.

Michael Sheen once again reprises his role as Blair (to typically brilliant effect), while Dennis Quaid is outstanding as Clinton, nailing the easygoing charisma and free-flowing charm of the man he is portraying. Indeed, Quaid’s is perhaps the most surprising of the two performances in terms of quality… although the actor has previously shone when playing historical figures in films such as The Alamo and Wyatt Earp.

Morgan’s screenplay, directed by Richard Loncraine, follows the period of time between Blair’s first meeting with Clinton’s aides (as a wide-eyed politician) through to Clinton’s handover of power to George Bush.

In between, it takes in Blair’s commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, his desire to intervene for the good of the people in Kosovo, and scandals involving Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky – all with a knowing, but seldom over-played eye on current events and how perceptions have changed of both men.

If anything, Loncraine’s movie is more playful with its protagonists than Stephen Frears’ weightier The Queen, but Morgan’s script is still insightful, intelligent and thought-provoking, offering plenty for his leading men to sink their teeth into.

Sheen, as we (and even Blair himself probably) have come to expect, is a towering presence, cleverly depicting Tony’s rise to power from wide-eyed political optimist to the type of calculated game-player who was willing to ‘stab’ Clinton in the back in his own back-yard over the need for armed intervention in Kosovo.

But he’s more than matched by Quaid’s charismatic Clinton… a wiley political player whose friendship is as much self-beneficial as it is genuine in recognising a kindred political spirit.

Their scenes together sparkle early on, before taking a turn towards the dark as Clinton comes to count the cost of his sexual dalliances and sees in Blair’s triumphant conquering of US and UK media headlines the spirit of his early years.

It’s not without irony, however, that Morgan belatedly dwells on the nobility of Blair’s actions in Kosovo, his courtship of Bush, or the US headlines that ruefully wished America could have a political leader as firm and charismatic as the bullish Brit… all moves that have since been turned around, or provided the framework for Blair’s own subsequent fall from grace.

There’s strong support, too, from Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair, and Hope Davis as Hilary Clinton, two intelligent women who provide invaluable behind-the-scenes support for their men, no matter their transgressions or ambitions.

At 90 minutes, The Special Relationship zips along at a giddy pace, seldom pausing for too long on any one issue, yet managing to avoid seeming too episodic at the same time. The end result is a smart, efficient political drama that offers intelligent analysis of a vital time in the relationship between the US and Britain.

It’s also a timely reminder of a time when Blair could do no wrong, as well as a clever insight into how things started to go wrong. Crucially, however, it’s never judgemental – enabling audiences to decide on the folly of both men for themselves.

The Special Relationship is being screened on BBC2 on Saturday, September 18, at 9.30pm, and is released on DVD on Monday, September 20, 2010.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 90mins
UK DVD Release: September 20, 2010