The Special Relationship Richard Loncraine

The Special Relationship Richard Loncraine
There is a scene in The Special Relationship where Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) is in his limo, dressed in a rumpled tuxedo, with tie undone and top button unfastened, watching a news report of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He has his right hand on his face, three fingers curled in front of his mouth, with an index finger against his cheek pointing up. His eyebrows are arched severely and he bites his lower lip. This is immediately followed by another scene with Clinton in his bedroom, waiting for Hilary to wake up, hunched forward and looking grim with hands clasped together in front of his mouth. Dennis Quaid is obviously not a dead-ringer for Clinton, but in these scenes his gestures are so spot-on they provoke a genuine shock of recognition. Yes, that is exactly the way Bill Clinton has held his hands in dozens, hundreds, thousands of Associated Press photographs. Contrast this to an early scene where Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), not yet Prime Minister but a sure-enough bet to merit a White House visit, meets Clinton for the first time. With white-ish-grey hair, a slightly soft midsection and a raspy Arkansas accent at an obnoxiously friendly high-pitch, Dennis Quaid looks uncannily like Dennis Quaid dressed as Bill Clinton. The questionable verisimilitude of this scene is not helped by cumbersome dialogue like, "Well, 17 years of conservative government, during which the country has veered wildly off-course, if Labour does get in, I'd like to make sure we stay in long enough to get back on the right track," and, "Oh, peace in Northern Ireland is top of my agenda. I just don't think it's reasonable in today's world to carry on with that kind of dispute." The Special Relationship is the third in a series of Tony Blair dramas starring Michael Sheen and written by Peter Morgan, following the Stephen Frears-directed The Deal (2003) and The Queen (2006), but this is the first of the series that feels a little like a wax museum version of modern history. Peter Morgan's dialogue is unusually stilted and we can often sense him straining to work in as many historical facts as possible ― says Cherie Blair to Tony, "You know Bill Clinton was once asked, 'Who would you go to if there was a crisis?' He said, 'his wife.'" The dichotomy between Blair (the wide-eyed idealist) and Clinton (the smooth, experienced politician) is a little heavy-handed: Blair is depicted as being so earnest about his friendship with Clinton, and so naïve about the pragmatism necessary in politics, that one wonders how he ever achieved public office. (At the height of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Sheen's Blair actually seems surprised to be asked about it at a press conference.) A Special Relationship is much clumsier than The Queen, but with figures like Clinton, Blair and Hillary Clinton, it's unavoidably fascinating, and unconvincing, though some scenes are: the film's depiction of Blair as earnest and conscience-driven provides a persuasive hypothesis for how he ended up in Iraq. It's a shame the DVD extras don't shed any light on the historical facts behind Morgan's screenplay; all we get is a worthless five-minute "making of." (Warner)