The Special Relationship


Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Written by:Peter Morgan
Starring: Martin Sheen, Dennis Quaid, Helen McCrory, Hope Davis, Lara Pulver, Adam Godley
Released: August 5, 2010
Grade: B-

It’s been a very quiet movie-going year so far in Australia.  By my count, only 96 films had been released in Brisbane cinemas over the first six months of 2010.  That’s the lowest total since 2003.  I don’t know exactly why we have a shortfall of “releasable” movies.  Are there simply fewer movies because of the global financial crisis?  Maybe local cinemas are starting to steer clear of smaller films because of their low box-office?

Roadshow Films are trying to fill the void with a rather unorthodox release for The Special Relationship.  If it looks and feels like a telemovie… well… that’s because it is.  The film debuted in the United States on the small screen and a similar strategy is planned for the United Kingdom.  You can therefore cross it off your Oscar ballot and try at the Emmys instead.

The film sees Michael Sheen take on the role of Tony Blair for the third time.  He first played Blair in The Deal (a television movie from 2003) but he’s more widely remembered for playing the famed prime minister in The Queen.  Richard Loncraine’s film explores the “special relationship” which was shared between Prime Minister Blair and President Clinton during their years in office from 1997 to 2000.

This sounds like an intriguing film on paper.  For a point in time, these two men were the most powerful in the world.  They formed a close friendship but what was the reason behind it?  Could they relate to each other’s situation?  Or was it more of a political alliance?  If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…

Richard Loncraine’s film is more of a history lesson than a meaningful drama.  I felt it had been made for those without knowledge of the Clinton sex scandal and the war in Kosovo.  Too much time is wasted explaining these events through interviews and television clips.  I was also puzzled by the attention given to Cherie Blair and Hilary Clinton.  What we’re left with is a movie which only scrapes the surface.  It doesn’t dig deep enough into the mindsets of both Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

The dialogue is also on the stiff side.  It lacks the energy that has earned screenwriter Peter Morgan a pair of Academy Award nominations (The Queen and Frost/Nixon).  Clinton and Bush are forever explaining their rationale to their wives and advisers but there are no major revelations.  It all plays out as you’d expect.  The Queen offered much more.

There’s a scene at the very end of the film where, for the first time, we see footage of the real Tony Blair alongside the newly elected George W. Bush.  It’s a great moment.  Blair doesn’t say much but you can sense the awkwardness of the situation.  Unfortunately, this glimpse of the real Blair was far more interesting than the clichéd version we saw throughout the film.