Friday, 9 May 2014

The Deal (2003)

The Deal was the TV film that gave Michael Sheen his first go at portraying Tony Blair, but for my money it's David Morrissey's astute characterisation of Gordon Brown that deserves the plaudits and indeed it initially did, earning him an RTS award. In a possible case of life imitating art, it was the subsequent loose trilogy  - with the second film from the same creative team, The Queen - which put Sheen's Blair firmly on the map, leaving this original film and Morrissey/Brown somewhat overlooked.

Based in part on James Naughtie's biography The Rivals, The Deal is cracking stuff; a clear and absorbing exploration of Labour's 'Great White Hopes' from their debut as MP's languishing in the Opposition and the bowels of the party in 1983 right up to the dawn of Blair's leadership. It makes no bones about its central characters whom Peter Morgan's script in turn tacitly and explicitly likens to both the Albert Brooks and William Hurt characters from Broadcast News and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid respectively. Blair appears initially like a puppy boundless with energy and, after being ignored and belittled for being little more than a Tory in disguise is happy and grateful to be accepted by Brown, whom he clearly admires and looks up to. Brown is the natural leader, a man who has intellectual power and a true passion for the cause, but as the years go on Blair's ambitions grow and his character twists and turns to become more ruthless, cunning, manipulative and sinister with a talent for taking the pulse of the country (or at the very least those quarters of the country he knows he needs to and wants to impress and appeal to) It is a characteristic and drive that ultimately left Brown out in the cold despite their previous 'understanding' that it was Brown who would lead the party should the chance arise.

Stephen Frears film is tight and economical as befits its low budget TV movie status but it does not suffer from it, the clear set aims keep our attention and make for an engrossing 75 minutes. Much of this of course is down to the central performers each of whom totally nail the real life characters they are playing. Morrissey gained weight for the role and has Brown's tics and accent down to a tee whilst Sheen's voice coaching to perfect Blair's mannerisms clearly paid dividends and would continue to do so in the following films, The Queen and The Special Relationship. There's also admirable support from Paul Rhys as Peter Mandelson; a suitably lurking presence on the periphery hedging his bets on the rivals, Frank Kelly, unrecognisable from his most famous role as Father Ted's Father Jack, as John Smith - the Obi Wan to Brown, and Dexter Fletcher as the savvy Charlie Whelan. 

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