SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, THE
British politician Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) went from political understudy waiting in the wings of the world arena to accomplished British prime minister standing confidently in the spotlight. Along the way, he and his wife Cherie (Helen McCrory) built a special relationship with US President Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) and his wife Hillary (Hope Davis), which lasted through the turbulence of Ken Starr's investigation into Clinton's sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky and the atrocious civil war in Kosovo - both historic milestones that tested the special relationship. Blair continued the relationship with Clinton's successor, George W. Bush.
Review by Louise Keller:
An intimate and revealing look at the complex, shifting relationship between two powerful political leaders, this intriguing film is food for thought for those who believe anything other than political relationships are all strategic and conditional. We are in the hot seat, in the inner circle as we get a sense of 'the special relationship' between two 'liberal' leaders Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid), who are (in Clinton's words) 'holding the joystick at the same time'. There is a sense of voyeurism about seeing them in their off-guard, private moments as well as in their family milieu, with wives Cherie (Helen McCrory) and Hillary (Hope Davis). The integration of the personal with the high profile politics, during the tumultuous Monica Lewinsky affair and the battle for humanity in Yugoslavia when both leaders' heads are on the line, is nothing short of fascinating.
The screenplay, meticulously researched by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and well directed by Richard Loncraine tells us plenty - on a personal and political level. It's as though we move from one stepping stone to the next on a pond of challenges. More than anything, the film reveals the fork in the road that separates the personal and political friendship between Blair and Clinton. Here's a clue. The Oscar Wilde quote 'True friends stab you in the front' is the very first thing we read before the film begins.
Performances are excellent; we have seen Michael Sheen in his Blair mode, so perhaps it is Dennis Quaid that is the biggest surprise as the charismatic Bill Clinton, lovable as an enthusiastic puppy. Helen McCrory and Hope Davis are both exceptional as the wives; Davis especially convincing. Our hearts go out to her as her husband confesses his misdemeanours like a naughty schoolboy caught on a prank. Also key are the British strategists / advisors (Adam Godley, Mark Bazeley), who mutter 'God they're good,' when told of the defence Clinton's lawyers are mounting regarding the definition of 'sexual relations'.
Ambition, manipulation and survival are the gears in which we drive through the journey. Footage of the real politicians is seamlessly integrated at relevant times. Not surprisingly, it is Tony Blair about whom we learn most - there are few revelations about Bill Clinton, except that what you see is what you get. The arc of the friendship between the two men circles - just like the helicopter that is finding its direction as it takes off.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Humanising Bill Clinton isn't too hard, given the President's personality and history; nor is Tony Blair an aloof figure. Yet Peter Morgan manages to infiltrate the wall of privacy that shrouds some aspects of these men's private conversations with a good ear for the hypothetical. As he did in his screenplay for The Queen and Frost/Nixon (two other films dealing with modern political lives, Morgan constructs a portrait of his subjects with the available historical record. If it's not 100% accurate, it nevertheless rings true.
Michael Sheen played Tony Blair in the highly acclaimed The Queen, set sometime after the events depicted in The Special Relationship, by which time he had matured and grown in political stature. In this film he is portrayed as a bit of a lightweight, while Clinton (Dennis Quaid) - and no less so Hillary (Hope Davis) - are shown as tougher political creatures, which of course they were. Quaid is given a terrific Clinton wig, but it's his voice that best captures the essence of the Clinton we remember, not his face. It all works well enough, partly because the performances are strong and partly because the events covered are still fairly fresh in our political memories as significant, with global ramifications.
The special relationship puts Tony Blair to the test when he has to make a binary decision whether to support his friend Bill in the Lewinsky scandal. When he does so, Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory, marvellous) suggests to him privately that he must have done it to earn a return favour sometime. That time comes with the Serbian war in Kosovo, which Blair embraces as a personal humanitarian crusade and drags the reluctant Bill Clinton with him.
Engaging and titillating as a fly on the wall doco might be (as was The Queen), The Special Relationship is not quite as complete or as satisfying as the other two screenplays, but it's still a robust addition to the genre of fact based political drama. Above all, it proves the old maxim about who you know being more important sometimes than what you know: personal relationships are pivotal, even in world affairs.
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SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, THE (M)
CAST: Michael Sheen, Dennis Quaid, Helen McCrory, Hope Davis, Adam Godley, Chris Wilson, Lara Pulver,
PRODUCER: Frank Doelger, Tracey Scoffield, Ann Wingate
DIRECTOR: Richard Loncraine
SCRIPT: Peter Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Barry Ackroyd
EDITOR: Melanie Oliver
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maria Drujkovic
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 5, 2010