Screenplay writer Peter Morgan wraps up his unofficial Blair trilogy (previously The Queen, and The Deal) with The Special Relationship: a depiction of the political and personal friendship between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton. Playing Blair for the third time is british actor Michael Sheen, while Clinton is portrayed by Dennis Quaid.
There are many ways a film about politics can go wrong – from controversy to inaccuracy to lack of purpose, there’s plenty of opportunities to fail – but mostly they’re just predictable, boring, and clichéd. And this statement comes from someone who has developed a strong interest for this genre, over the years. It was that same keenness that drove me to pause the habitual zapping and watch The Special Relationship, but it was the film itself that made me watch it not once, but twice, on the same weekend. It is not clichéd, predictable, or even the slightest bit boring — quite on the contrary, it is incredibly interesting and it achieves this by perfectly and cleverly balancing the two men’s personal and political lives.
It works on three levels: Clinton’s and Blair’s political personas, their individual domestic lives, and their personal friendship. All three entwined with logic and wit, creating a candid painting of these two emblematic figures of internacional politics. Moreover, it’s an enlightening and entertaining comparison between the lives of an American President and a British Prime Minister. It adresses the hottest topics of their terms (Northern Ireland, Monica Lewinsky, Kosovo) from an insider’s perspective, focusing on the intimate impact and informal backstage action that they provoked, rather than the bureaucracy of it. It presents Blair and Clinton not as heroes (or sinners), but as struggling men, loving husbands, sometimes frustrated and insecure, at times gleaming with hope (mainly Blair, here).
Hope Davis displays an uncanny resemblance to Hillary Clinton, while Helen McCory reprises her role as Cherie Blair in what I can only expect to be an accurate portrayal of Blair’s wife, for there’s not much information or recordings of her. Dennis Quaid would be the weakest link of this feature, solely because of his looks — though he sounds and moves like the american president, it’s hard to imagine someone farther from looking like Clinton which, at least for me, it’s a huge step back for credibility. On the upper hand, Michael Sheen appears to get better and better with every try at playing Tony Blair, capturing every mannerism with incredible naturalness, thus delivering a pretty impressive performance.
And that performance alone makes Sheen/Blair the leading men in every aspect. Though the Clinton/Blair affair is interesting, what is truly fascinating in The Special Relationship is Tony Blair’s growth from eager boy to world leader.