Thursday, August 15, 2013

FI: The Deal

The Deal
UK (Channel 4), 2003
Directed by Stephen Frears

Originally aired on television in the UK,  The Deal is the first outing by the creative team that would later make the theatrically-released The Queen (with Helen Mirren) and BBC2/HBO's The Special Relationship (with Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton). Here, writer Peter Morgan, director Stephen Frears, and star Michael Sheen (as Tony Blair) come together to tell the story of the battle for the soul of the Labour party between Blair and Gordon Brown (David Morrissey, best known in the US as The Governor on The Walking Dead). The two men enter Parliament at the same time in 1983, with Labour in the weeds during Thatcher's reign, and each has his own ideas as to how to "modernize" the party.

From the restaurant where the titular deal—Brown standing aside to let Blair contest the party leadership—takes place, Morgan's script flashes back to the pair's early days as Labour backbenchers, highlighting the men's friendship in spite of their differing public personae. Brown is an intellectual, fiery, sharp-tempered Scot seen as the party's rising star, while Blair is a politically savvy, smooth-yet-dangerous centrist derisively called a Tory for his heterodoxy. Both actors do well to embody their characters' core traits without resorting to impersonations of the men on whom they're based. Brown is the film's focus, up to the point where Blair rises to steal the spotlight (and the party leadership) from him. But the breakout performance, here, comes from Paul Rhys, whose Machiavellian turn as Peter Mandelson enables the film's major conflicts.

But, aside from its performances and its putative "behind the scenes" look at how an era of British politics came about, there's not a ton(ne?) here to make the film worth revisiting now from a cinephile's perspective. Due perhaps to its televisual origins, The Deal is a very short, not terribly flashy film. As is his wont even in his theatrical pictures, Frears lets the material speak for itself, eschewing stylistic flourishes in favor of clarity and economical, engaging storytelling. That he and Morgan make parliamentary politics as interesting as they do is definitely to their credit, but as the Blair/Brown era recedes into history, so too does the film's relevance. Perhaps the deal Nick Clegg and David Cameron made to resolve a hung Parliament and ultimately remove Brown from the office he waited so long to take would make an interesting sequel?

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