Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008

The Deal: Prequel to The Queen?

By David Luhrssen
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We first met Michael Sheen in his role as Tony Blair in The Queen, a film that leapt from art houses and into Oscar consideration. Sheen reappears as a much less attractive Blair in director Stephen Frears’ companion piece, The Deal. The docudrama (out now on DVD) is billed as a prequel to the movie that peered behind the palace gates at the royal family’s response to Princess Diana’s death.

The Deal falls short of its predecessor, in part because Frears was harder pressed this time to find the core of humanity in his central characters. Maybe the core has eroded? In The Queen, the stoic Elizabeth II comes alive as a woman of greater wit and insight than many might suspect. The Deal’s dueling protagonists, British politicians Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, are presented as far less engaging.

Also, The Deal requires a knowledge of British politics that few who live beyond the sceptered isle possess. The story concerns a pair of deals, actually, between Blair and Gordon concerning which of them would be their party’s candidate for Prime Minister. Blair abandoned both understandings. He appeared willing to put ambition above honor.

David Morrissey plays Brown as a man with a perpetual headache who sees himself as the smartest man in a roomful of fools. Brown and Blair met when they were forced to share an office as young Members of Parliament. At first, Brown finds Blair’s boyish enthusiasm annoying, but the two men grow closer, sharing a dream of leading the Labour Party to victory during the lengthening regime of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. To do so, they must draw Labour out of its Old Left time warp and into the world of Cool Brittania. But Blair was much better at projecting cool than his dour colleague.

“Much of what follows is true,” reads the caption at the start of The Deal and much of it is probably close to what happened. The movie won’t win any Oscars but does afford revealing insights into the warping effect of ambition on politicians who began their careers with ideals in their brief cases.

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