We were able to snag a preview copy of the new HBO drama "The Special Relationship," airing this Saturday, which stars Michael Sheen as (again) Tony Blair, and Dennnis Quaid as Bill Clinton. The show looks at the complicated political and personal relationship between the two with a standout performance by Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton. Tim Reidy, our online editor, (pre)views it for the online Culture section.
With the airing of “The Special Relationship” May 29 on HBO, Tony Blair assumes his place among a select group of English leaders. Like King Henry VI before him, Blair is now the subject of a dramatic trilogy. Why screenwriter Peter Morgan chose to make three films about Blair (and only one about Richard Nixon) is a question worth pondering. Surely Blair, an articulate, conscientious family man, does not warrant the kind of scrutiny reserved for bloody-minded monarchs?
Or does he? Though Tony Blair may still be popular in the United States, “The Special Relationship” is evidence that he is far from beloved in Britain. The film’s ostensible subject is the fraught relationship between Blair and President Bill Clinton at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and later, during NATO’s engagement in Kosovo. Yet what Morgan is really interested in is why Blair, a promising politician, ended his tenure as prime minister as a strong backer of George W. Bush’s ruinous war in Iraq. “Let no one ever doubt again the moral justification of invading another country for humanitarian ends,” Blair thunders in the wake of Slobodan Milosevic’s decision to withdraw his troops from Kosovo. Sound familiar?
Morgan’s Blair trilogy began with “The Queen,” the highly acclaimed film that nabbed Helen Mirren an Oscar for her turn as Elizabeth II, and continued with the lesser known “The Deal,” also produced by HBO. “The Deal” chronicled the highly complicated relationship between Blair and Gordon Brown, a character study worth re-watching in light of Brown’s recent defeat at the polls. The true subject of each film, however, is Blair, who is portrayed as a gifted if somewhat slippery politician with no small amount of ambition. At the beginning of “The Special Relationship” we see Blair (Michael Sheen, reprising his signature role) traveling to Washington, D.C. in 1993 to study at the feet of victorious Clintonites. Like Clinton, Blair hoped to lead his party to victory by tacking to the political center, and he returned home to London with a briefcase full of new ideas.