by Tony Dayoub
The Deal is an interesting exploration of the rivalry between Britain's current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown (David Morrissey), and the former one, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). Produced in 2003, for British Television, it was first aired in the U.S. last year, on HBO. This probably wouldn't have even happened, had it not been produced by the same creative team as the popular film starring Helen Mirren, The Queen (2006). Like that one, it is written by Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland), directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), and it has the same actor playing Blair. So one can choose to view it as a prequel, though their storylines are not really tightly connected. Still it should be of interest to fans of that movie, and observers of British politics.
Brown and Blair came up the Labour Party ranks together, their association starting in 1983. Though ostensibly peers, Brown had the benefit of being involved with the opposition party since he was handing out leaflets in his teens. Blair, though born in working class Scotland like Brown, had a more privileged upbringing. Brown took Blair under his wing, and together the odd couple became a popular pair within the party. Both showed potential to be the leader of the newest generation in their organization, and perhaps the best chance at wresting Britain away from the Thatcherite Conservative party.
However, though Brown's experience made it seem he would be destined to take the reins, Blair quickly surpassed him in popularity. As we all know, it was Blair that became PM first. This film reveals the deal the two made leading to the fateful decision as to who would best be qualified to lead the party and eventually Britain itself.
In "A Conversation with Director Stephen Frears", a special feature in the new DVD, the director opines that the movie would be hard to follow for anyone outside Britain, so he hadn't dreamed of releasing it in the U.S. Indeed, the intricacies of British politics can be a bit alien to Americans unfamiliar with the parliamentary form of government. But Frears and Morgan keep it simple. They simply present the information in a mixture of dramatic recreations and documentary footage, and allow the viewer to sort it all out. So even those with little knowledge of British politics can understand what is essentially a story about a talented, hard-boiled leader having his position usurped by a slick, but less experienced, newcomer.
The actors capture the essence of the two politicians with different degrees of success. Morrissey is captivating as the rough Brown, imbuing the character with a code of honor that he valiantly holds onto despite his friends' betrayals. Sheen is not as effective playing Blair's arc from fresh-faced party neophyte to slick, underhanded candidate. Of course, one has the benefit of seeing where he takes this role in the follow-up, The Queen. In that movie, he underplays the more cruelly ambitious aspects of Blair's personality. But in this one, a fair interpretation of the man eludes him, and he chooses to lapse into a subtle villainy rather than a more even-handed portrayal.
Those expecting a character study like The Queen should let go of that notion. The Queen centered around a very specific moment in time known to many around the world, the death of Diana, and the monarchy's response to it. The Deal is more of a political expose, and one's enjoyment hinges on their interest in such stories.
The Deal will be available on DVD this upcoming Tuesday.
Still provided courtesy of Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.