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The Special Relationship
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The Special Relationship – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

On the Eve of the 1997 British elections, the American president, Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) invites the leader of the British Labour party, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) to the white house and offers support and endorsement.

After winning the elections, Blair looks for advice from and seeks friendship with Clinton. Soon a new special relationship blossoms between the two powerful politicians, who share the ambitions to spread their center-left politics throughout the world and make it a better place for everyone.

They worked harmoniously and successfully in resolving the intractable Northern Ireland’s conflict. But their global mission was derailed when the Monica Lewinsky affair exploded in Clinton’s face, exposing him as a cheat and a liar.

In defiance of his advisers’ advice to distance himself from Clinton, Blair risks his own reputation and heads to the White House to offer Clinton support, when everybody else had deserted him.

The bond between the two leaders sunders, when Blair called upon Clinton to invade Kosovo in order to Milosevic’s atrocities and Clinton, battered and weaken by the Lewinsky’s debacle, refuses to commit.

Relentless, Blair seeks the support of the American media and eventually bends Clinton’s arm into supporting his cause in Kosovo. They triumph in Kosovo, but this time victory has a bitter taste.

Differences in political ideologies and personal ambitions slowly rise to the surface and the friendship between the two leaders began to cool down. And when George Bush takes power, a new special relationship is born that leaves Clinton –and many of Blair’s liberal supporter- feeling betrayed.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

The Special Relationship is the third instalment in Peter Morgan’s trilogy about the Blair’s era. But unlike “The Deal” and “The Queen”, where we were introduced to Blair’s domestic politics, “The Special Relationship” delves deeper in Blair’s political mind and exposes his ambitions to be a heavy weight player in the Global Arena. To achieve that, he shuns the indolent and impotent Europe and looks west towards America, the only world superpower that could make a difference and helps him fulfil his dreams.

Blair’s quest to be close to America almost borders an obsession. He ingratiates himself, like an exuberant child, to Clinton, and presents himself as a liberal who wants to join Clinton in making the world a better place to live. Clinton is impressed by his new friend’s effervesce, and embraces his friendship. This friendship, however, falters when differences between the two leaders begin to emerge.

As the film progress, the true nature of Blair is gradually revealed to us and to Clinton. Contrary to his professed beliefs in liberal politics, he sounds like a right- wing fanatic, who is driven by Christian beliefs. And when Clinton confronts him with these facts and warns him from George Bush’s people, Blair was unfazed. He seems to be looking forward to be working with someone who has more in common with him than his old friend.

Unlike Tony Blair, who is rigid in his opinions and obstinate to external advice, Bill Clinton is a rational thinker and a pragmatic politician, who weighs different options and considers the repercussions of every decision before he commits to it.

The film presents neither Tony Blair nor Bill Clinton in negative or positive lights; it merely focuses on the dry facts that are mostly known to the public. The two characters are flawed, one is an obsessive fanatic and other is a philandering liar, but we admire and envy them for the power they wield and their ability to change the world.

The film offers a fascinating insight into the dynamic and intimacy of the relationship between the two men and their wives. But it fails to enter into their minds or reveal their inner conflicts and turmoil.

As he did before in “The Deal” and “The Queen”, Michael sheen delivers an impressive and convincing portrayal of Tony Blair, though he gives it a comical edge.

Dennis Quaid doesn’t bear a physical resemblance to Bill Clinton as Michael sheen does to Tony Blair, his portrayal of smooth-talking, charismatic and sometimes-troubled Clinton is riveting. His silver hair and swaggering demeanour doesn’t make him look like Clinton but close enough to make him sound like him.

The cinematography was elegantly used to express the mood of the story. Darker light and deeper contrast was gradually used to reflect the darker side of the two leaders and the decline of their relationship. The production design was impeccable in replicating the oval office, 10 Downing Street and even a refugee camp in Kosovo.

Broadcast BBC ONE 19th September 2010

Available on iPlayer until 10:59pm Sat, 25 Sep 2010
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ty79c/The_Special_Relationship/

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